Who Are We Now? Updating “Washashore”

According to the recent census, the Outer Cape is experiencing an unprecedented population explosion. Wellfleet’s year round population has increased about 30% over the last ten years, from 2750 to 3566, with Provincetown and Truro not far behind Wellfleet

According to Wikipedia, that 30% is the biggest 10 year increase in the 170 year population history they provide, after 20-plus years of no increase at all. .

How is this historic increase to be understood? Who are the newcomers? What role will the play in our future? Since estimates as recent as 2019 show no increase in population from 2010, it would seem that the big 30% jump all happened in the past couple of years. Cherchez the pandemic: the increase is all or mostly due to refugees from the cities, who have signed on as residents.

Is this new chunk of population just a pandemic flash in the pan? How many will stick around to become a whole new demographic that will dramatically change the town?

In any case, whether a pandemic flash in the pan or a more durable demographic, the newcomers are “washashores,” the long-used term for fulltime residents who were not born here. But that traditional term now seems misleadingly broad. This unprecedented population boom would seem to be a good occasion for reviewing and updating the traditional designation.

At some point, presumably in the 20th century, when natives began to feel the need to distinguish themselves from visitors who had begun—at a very slow trickle for much of the 20th century is my impression– to move here fulltime, the term “washashore” was coined, with its mildly contemptuous implication that, like something that just floated up on the beach, you occupy marginal space and might just wash away on the next tide.

For decades now that’s where the terminology has stood: residents were either natives or washashores.

But for a long time the term “washashore” has concealed two very different categories of residents. There are those who move here in early life, throw in their lot with the local economy and raise families here—who, in short, live most of their lives here. And there are those who, having lived most of their lives elsewhere, choose to retire here.

Though both sorts of washashore , those who come here in their 20s and those who come in their 60s, care deeply about this town, and serve side-by-side on town boards and committees, they have on average a very different economic reality and a sociologist might not be surprised to find some other fundamental differences.

Now this new pandemic-motivated 30%. Of those who plan to stay, how many are retirees whom the pandemic convinced to make the move they had already been planning?

I’ve heard it surmised that some of the new residents may be younger, mid-career people working remotely. If so, they bring welcome youth to this aging town. Their kids will swell the numbers in the elementary school that was built for three times the student population of recent years.

On the other hand, if, though physically here, they are conducting their worklife elsewhere, enabled by computers to tap that more affluent economy that enabled them to buy a house here, they will not fit the traditional definition of washashore as being fully embedded in the local economy.

While updating “washashore”, how about workers from places such as Jamaica, Eastern Europe and Brazil? .

Though a vital part of the local tourist business such workers, lacking citizenship, living as many do in employer-provided “worker housing” as distinguished from residential housing in general, are, I believe, not usually thought of as washashores.

How many see themselves as just putting in the time here to make money to take back home?

Recently there have been news stories about a few who have managed to buy a local business, with the longterm commitment to this place implied. How many of our immigrant worker washashores planning to get citizenship and become a serious part of our local future?

It is an oft-heard lament that Wellfleet and for that matter the whole Outer Cape is on what is usually seen as a downward trajectory toward some combo of vacation destination and retirement community—that is, not a town at all in the traditional sense. Is there reason to think that the pandemic washashores and immmigrant worker washashores may alter that trajectory?

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