In Provincetown, foreign workers are saving the tourism industry
Maralinga in WA/Flickr
PROVINCETOWN, Mass. -- Marko Ceperkovic dreams of becoming a diplomat. The 20-year-old Serbian is amassing the proper credentials. He speaks four languages (Bulgarian, English, French, and German) in addition to his native one. He's studying political science and international relations at the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris, the elite French university known as Sciences Po. Back home in Belgrade, he's worked at the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, a leading non-governmental organization. His resumé, he tells me, is four pages long. But this summer, he's perfectly content selling skimpy swimsuits and Asian-inspired home décor. Ceperkovic is one of well over 1,000 foreigners -- mostly Jamaicans and students from Eastern Europe -- who descend upon this small town at the very tip of Cape Cod every summer to take up seasonal jobs. Amid a worsening economic picture of home foreclosures, spiraling national debt, and stubbornly high unemployment, their stories provide a heartening reminder of the opportunity that America still represents to people all over the world.
Ever since its settlement by the Nauset Indians over four centuries ago, Provincetown -- "the Wild West of the East," as former resident Norman Mailer titled an essay about it -- has played host to diverse communities. It was the first landing spot of the Pilgrims, who signed the Mayflower Compact here in 1620. Beginning in the early 1800s, Portuguese fishermen, originally hired to work on American whaling ships, began to make Provincetown their home. Around the turn of the century, artists -- attracted by the town's natural light and stunning scenery -- started flocking to the town's deserted dunes, and they were soon followed by writers (Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams) seeking the inspiration that seclusion affords. In the 1970s, attracted by the town's welcoming spirit, gays began flocking there, and today Ptown -- as it's affectionately known -- rivals Fire Island and Fort Lauderdale as the most popular gay summer destination on the East Coast. A general atmosphere of free-spiritedness pervades; on a recent Friday afternoon, an elderly man in a top hat could be found singing "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Achy Breaky Heart" outside Town Hall.