LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Home is where the heart is and for many native Hawaiians and Las Vegas has become their adopted home. In fact, so many have settled in Southern Nevada that Vegas has earned a reputation as being the "ninth island."
The tropical vibes from a band playing at a Hawaiian festival would be very much in place on the islands and it's all happening in the Las Vegas valley.
“The people are here. The Hawaii spirit is here. We have our food. We have our clothing. We have everything we could think of except the elements of Hawaii Nei," said Doreen Hall, president of the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club.
Hall is part of the native Hawaiian community, which is the largest Pacific Islander group represented in the valley.
“We are growing and the migration continues from Hawaii Nei to here in Las Vegas,” she said.
But why Las Vegas, especially when Hawaiians are trading a tropical island for a desert climate. UNLV professor Mark Padoongpatt says you have to go back to the 1970s when the California hotel-casino opened.
“It starts to market to Hawaiians after the California Hotel doesn’t do well among Californians and he turns his attention to Hawaiians and that makes Las Vegas a popular destination,” he said.
With Hawaii not allowing gambling, Sam Boyd saw an opportunity.
“Sam Boyd made it so easy when he started chartering planes that he wanted to bring people from Hawaii to here and it’s evident 40 years later. People are still coming to Las Vegas,” Hall said.
Eventually, some Hawaiians began to settle in Nevada and began forming a community. Many moved due to economics, as the cost of living on the island became too expensive.
“Currently, back in Hawaii, our average home price is $850,000 to $900,000. That’s almost $3,500 to $4,000 in mortgage payments,” Hall said.
Padoongpatt says Las Vegas became a perfect landing spot despite being farther away than cities on the West Coast.
“L.A. or San Francisco or anywhere in California is probably just as prohibitive in terms of cost of living. But Las Vegas offers not just Hawaiians but a lot of communities of color an opportunity and some have argued, one of the last opportunities to get a middle-class lifestyle,” he said.
He also says in some ways for Hawaiians, Las Vegas still retains some idea of an island, reinforcing its ninth island moniker.
Hall says she expects the bonds of Hawaii and Las Vegas to remain strong, especially with many Hawaiians searching for better opportunities on the mainland.
“Aloha is where we stand. Aloha doesn’t have to only mean in Hawaii. It comes from Hawaii, but where we stand, we make it our home," she said.