Thais in Southern Nevada

According to the 2000 census, 150,238 Thais live in the United States. Among them, 4,220 dwell in Nevada. Clark County is home to more than 89 percent (3,759) of the state's total. Thais are among the fastest-growing Asian American population in the United States, increasing by 64.6 percent over the last decade.

Only 458 Thais registered as immigrants from 1951 to 1960, according to records from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Thai immigration to Nevada did not begin until the 1960s. There are virtually no records on Thai immigrants in Nevada before then. The first Thai immigrants to Nevada were women who had married American soldiers stationed in or visiting Thailand for rest and recreation during the Vietnam War. Most of these women were ethnic Lao, called Thai Isan (Isan also refers to the northeast, the poorest region in Thailand). These women moved to Las Vegas when their husbands were reassigned to the Nellis Air Force Base. In the 1960s and 1970s, this gendered immigration pattern prevailed in other states as well. From 1968 to 1977, 14,688 Thai women immigrated to the United States as wives of American servicemen. Most came from peasant families in Isan and had only a primary school education. Some brought their young children from previous marriages to the United States.

A large number of Thai professional men—entrepreneurs, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, and scientists—immigrated to take jobs in big cities throughout the United States between 1968 and 1976. Nonetheless, only a small number of Thai men, primarily students, immigrated to Las Vegas in the 1970s. Even today, Clark County has more Thai American women than men. According to the 2000 census, in Clark County, Thai American women outnumber men by 28.70 percent. Nationally, Thai women outnumber men by about 19.84 percent.

The Thai population in Nevada steadily grew from just 799 in 1980 to 1,823 in 1990. In the 1980s and 1990s, a number of Thais remigrated to Las Vegas from California and other states. Some came to Las Vegas because of affordable housing. Others came because of business opportunities. The number of Thai restaurants in Las Vegas, for example, has grown from one in 1975 to more than two dozen in 2007. This figure only includes those restaurants that advertise in the telephone directory. The casino and hotel industry also has attracted many newcomers. At the same time, new Thai immigrants have come to Las Vegas as part of a wave of transnational interracial marriages and family unification. Some local Thais have estimated that the actual Thai American population in Clark County as of 2007 may be as high as 10,000 or even 15,000.

The availability of casino and hotel jobs that do not require higher education or advanced skills, relatively affordable housing, an older population, and women outnumbering men, combine to form a distinctive Las Vegas Thai American demographic profile. A majority of Thais in Las Vegas work in the service industry as dealers, cashiers, masseurs, maids, cooks, and so on. Others are teachers, construction workers, plumbers, carpenters, and salespersons. Only a small number of Thai immigrant men and women are entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, attorneys, medical personnel, accountants, managers, or state employees. The median household income for Thais in Clark County is 12.84 percent below the national average and 9.24 percent below the median household income for Thais in the rest of the United States. In terms of higher education, 26.75 percent of Thais nationwide have a bachelor's degree or higher, but for Thais in Clark County the rate is only 13.13 percent. The median age of Thais in Clark County is 39 as compared to 35 for Thais in the country as a whole.

In the last two decades in Clark County, Thai immigrants have established six Buddhist temples, the Thai Cultural Art Association, the Muay Thai (kickboxing) Academy, and the Thai Student Association at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Las Vegas News, a Thai-language newspaper, comes out twice a month. One can shop at Thai markets such as Bangkok Plaza and the Bangkok Market. Thai restaurants are ubiquitous. Among them, Lotus of Siam was hailed by Gourmet magazine as the best Thai restaurant in the United States. Various cultural events—Thai Music and Dance Day, Thailand Day, and Thai Night—have raised the visibility of Thai Americans and enriched the cultural fabric of Las Vegas and America.

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