Folk Groups

Folklore is shared in groups of people; this is the "folk" in folklore. Folk groups share something in common—a heritage or a place or an interest—that makes them distinctive and gives them their identity. Folk groups can be based on such elements as ethnicity, tribe, religion, region, occupation, family, age, or gender. The folklore of such groups bonds them together with shared meaning, and sets them apart from other groups. People are members of multiple folk groups, of course, and may choose to highlight their various identities in different situations. They know the occupational skills and stories of the railroad on their job, or they hunger for their Greek grandmother's cooking at family celebrations.

Most folk groups operate at the personal level, in face to face situations with others of their kind, and this is how traditions are passed on. Paiute children growing up learn the respect for their elders that is a hallmark of Native American culture; workers learn the subtle skills of a new job from fellow workers; Nevadans hear legends about Virginia City or the Nevada Test Site from friends and neighbors. Increasingly, traditional lore is also transmitted via print and the Internet, and e-mail is the fastest way for a joke to spread, but it is still usually a referral from a known individual that leads one to such sources.

The Online Nevada Encyclopedia includes entries that focus on Nevada's distinct tribal, ethnic, and occupational traditions. The Shoshone, Paiute, and Washoe peoples made this land their home before it was Nevada, and continue to maintain their strong connection to the natural world, with which they have lived in harmony for generations. The influx of immigrants to the state began in the mid-1800s and includes groups that are still here today—Germans, Italians, Portuguese, Irish, Chinese, Basque, and Mexican, to name a few. More recent migrants, drawn especially to Las Vegas, include Filipinos, Central and South Americans, East Indians, Russians, Iranians, Thais, Hawaiians, and many others. All of these groups brought their languages, arts, and foods with them and are making them a part of what it means to be Nevadan.

Historically, Nevada's economy was based on mining, ranching, and railroads, and these occupations drew many early residents to the state. All are somewhat diminished from their heydays, but they remain important elements of the state's history and culture, and have their own rich traditions. Gaming and entertainment have also long been part of Nevada's identity and are increasing in importance with the wild growth of Las Vegas. But the occupational skills that keep those businesses going often escape notice. The insider traditions of dealers, showgirls, and bartenders create a shared sense of meaning, belonging, and identity for the thousands of workers in those businesses.

As social animals, people live in groups as a part of communities of all kinds. The traditions of those groups serve to bind a community together, as participants celebrate their unique heritage and educate the next generation about who they are.

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