Hispanic/Latino Folklife in Southern Nevada

Nevada's Hispanic and Latino communities have grown rapidly in the last twenty years, paralleling the influx of immigrants nationwide and especially in the West. There are significant Latino populations in the Reno-Carson City area and in the ranching regions of Northern Nevada, where Mexicans continue unique rodeo traditions called charreadas and Peruvians work as sheep herders. The largest numbers, however, are in Southern Nevada where at least twenty Hispanic/Latino cultures make Las Vegas home.

Hispanic immigrants have imported a wide variety of traditions. Natives of Mexico have brought ancestral celebrations with them, adapting to their environment. Probably the largest religious celebration is Fiestas Guadalupanas. Held in the early part of December, Catholic Mexicans and other Hispanics celebrate the day the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe appeared in Tepeyac, close to Mexico City, in 1531. As well as traditional music and food, one special ceremonial group is the matachines, or elaborately masked dancers. The Perez family members and friends formed the group Danza del Carrizo in 1991, which dedicates its performances to the Virgin.

Another celebration dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe takes place on December 11 on the west side of Las Vegas, at the cross streets of Silver Dollar and Valley View. People from the state of Guerrero, Mexico, build an altar to the Lady of Guadalupe in the central courtyard of the apartment building where most of them live. The event features live music, folkloric dance, and food. The celebration begins with a procession from the house that kept the image of the Virgin during the year to the apartment courtyard. A group of children then perform the dance of the birds or Pajaritos, and the doors of apartments open to welcome visitors with their hosts offering traditional dishes such as pozole, tostadas, tamales, atole de piƱa, and ponche.

Mexicans from Michoacan started organizing in 2000. They have formed about twenty-three clubs which provide meeting places for people from specific regions of Michoacan including Patzcuaro, Turicato, Puruandro, Tacambaro, Morelia, Curupo, Santa Clara de los Reyes, and Apatzingan. Together the clubs founded the United Michoacan Federation. Like other immigrant clubs and associations, the Federation assists new immigrants and serves as a political bridge between Las Vegas residents and the Mexican government. The associations raise money to send the deceased back to Mexico when appropriate. Members help communities in Michoacan while assisting people as they integrate into American life. The Michoacan Federation also sponsors a week-long celebration showcasing Michoacan culture that features food, dance, music, and storytelling.

Most Mexican associations are active participants in the annual Clark County Festival, which celebrates the Mexican Dia de Muertos on the first and second days of November. The “Life in Death Festival” was created in 2001 to preserve the Dia de Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) tradition. The festivity offers Mexican music, dance, and food, plus the opportunity to learn about ofrendas (“offerings”)—altars which participants construct to honor their ancestors. Also included in this celebration is the reading of Calaveras (literally “skulls”), which are satirical poems dedicated to living community leaders and politicians as if they were dead. The festival brings together most of the Mexican folklorico dance groups of Las Vegas including Ballet Mexicano de Martha Luevano (the oldest folklorico group in the city), Mexico Vivo Dance Company, Xyachimal, Tepuchcalli, Izel, Le Dance Company, Grupo Guerrerence, Danza del Carrizo, Los Viejitos de Patzcuaro, Grupo Perla Tapatia, Los Viejitos de Corupo, and the Arturo Cambeiro Senior Dance Group.

Since 2003, a group from Oaxaca called Primer Comite de la Virgen del Rosario has organized another important festivity in Las Vegas at the beginning of October. They celebrate their town's patron saint, the Virgen del Rosario with a calenda, or procession, in which men carry huge balloon-like ornaments called marmotas that represent the earth, the moon, and the sun. Young girls wearing traditional hand-woven costumes walk in two lines behind the image of the Virgin. They carry heavy, beautifully-decorated baskets on their heads. When the girls arrive in the atrium of the church, they dedicate a dance to the Virgin and then attend mass. When the mass is over, they dance again and share tamales, mole, bread, chocolate, and candy with the people who joined them.

One of the oldest Mexican civic organizations in Las Vegas is the Mexican Patriotic Committee headed by Edmundo Escobedo, owner and founder of the Spanish language newspaper El Mundo. For at least twenty-five years, the Mexican Patriotic Committee has sponsored two festivities a year in Freedom Park, which combine folklore, contemporary music, and food.

The second largest group of Hispanics in Las Vegas comes from El Salvador. Their presence in the community is evident in the city's numerous Salvadoran restaurants. Also from Central America, many Guatemalans call Las Vegas home. In September, the Comite de Unidad Guatemalteco (Gatemalan Unity Committee) or COMULGA sponsors a celebration of the Guatemalan anniversary of independence from Spain. A recent addition to the event is a comedy act called Los Reyes Feos (“The Ugly Kings”), which mocks public figures. The Las Vegas Guatemalan community also has a radio program on Sundays called La Hora Chapina offering marimba music and Guatemalan news.

Other Hispanic/Latino groups residing in Las Vegas are from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, and Spain. Most have clubs or associations to promote their culture and to help their compatriots.

The Boricua Association of Las Vegas assists the Puerto Rican community with education, housing, employment, health, and safety. Like other cultural organizations, this group is also committed to the dual purpose of acting as community liaisons while teaching the larger population about the diversity of Latino culture. The Boricua Association of Las Vegas is especially committed to the preservation of Puerto Rican history, music, arts, and literature. Members participate in a yearly Three Kings celebration in early January. In 2000, they created the Annual Hispanic International Day Parade which brings together members of many Hispanic cultures to celebrate Columbus Day—known in Latin America as Dia de la Raza (“Day of the Race”).

People of Chilean heritage living in Las Vegas have a yearly picnic in September where they celebrating their independence from Spain. Participants enjoy typical Chilean food, music, and dance. The group Ecos de Chile (“Echoes from Chile”) presents traditional dances with live music.

The Colombian Association of Las Vegas (COLAVE) is another active organization. It hosts an annual celebration and provides assistance to new Colombian immigrants.

One of the youngest organizations dedicated to Latino folklore in Las Vegas is El Centro de Cultura y Folklore de Peru (“The Center for the Culture and Folklore of Peru”). Arturo Amaya leads the group, which is sponsored by the Peruvian Cultural Arts Association. The Center has introduced the tradition of La Tunantada to Las Vegas. This centuries-old custom satirizes Spanish conquistadors, recalling a time when Spain challenged the ancient Incan culture of Peru.

The most recent Hispanic group to organize in order to celebrate and cultivate its traditions is from the Dominican Republic. Founded in 2005, Dominicans in Nevada celebrates independence from Spain with a dance in February, which includes several rhythms such as merenge and salsa. In 2007 the organization partnered with the Hispanic Museum of Nevada to present an art exhibit featuring talented Dominican artists.

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