Wandering around the 50 States in search of traces of Italy on American soil, this time we land where everybody once in their life would like to go to have fun, to do something different, to change at least for a bit the routine of their lives: Las Vegas.
A city known all over the world, a place with a very different story than every other place, Las Vegas – too – has a big Italian presence. Nobody better than Edward Bevilacqua can enlighten us and our readers about this. This stime what happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas. Just keep reading!
Edward, we know that the story of the Italians in Las Vegas and in Nevada is also a story of mafia. When it comes to the Italians, unfortunately the mainstream narration almost always stops at that: but many Italian Americans participated in every aspect of the city's growth. Will you help us knowing something more about this?
This is a myth. Like most things in life, a vocal minority is sensationalized and thus gets a lot more attention than the silent majority; that is the case when it comes to the mafia and Las Vegas. Las Vegas did not grow because of any mafia presence. The city grew from about 350,000 to almost 2,000,000 people beginning in 1975 (i.e. the past 40 years once the large corporations came to town); in the 40's through the 60's it was pretty much a dusty place with laws that legalized gambling and prostitution.
The number of mafia members in Las Vegas has always been a drop in the bucket (perhaps a dozen or so) compared to the number of mafia personnel in the older communities including New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, etc. Las Vegas became the city it now is because there was no mafia control; people were free to pursue their passion and reap the rewards of their hard work.
Once Howard Hughes came to Las Vegas, other corporations came and then the city really began to grow when the capital needed to turn a desert into an oasis arrived through large publicly owned corporations.
There is no mafia presence in Las Vegas today. The city is highly regulated and controlled by the police; virtually every employment position requires a background check, fingerprints, or some type of registration with the authorities (this includes working in convenience stores).
The Sheriff, Joe Lombardo, is a proud Italian American. Also Bill Young, a former sheriff, is half Italian and grew up speaking Italian. When one includes the number of security guards working at casinos, businesses and residential areas, plus the military personnel at the local Air Force Base, Las Vegas has more security/police personnel than almost any city in the world. That's why one can walk down the street at 4:00 in the morning, with $2,000 cash in his pocket and not be worried about being mugged.
What's the actual presence of the Italians in Las Vegas and in Nevada?
It is very common for Italian Americans to believe that there are only two types of people in the world: Italians and those who wish they were Italian.
There are Italian Americans in every position in the State; the Attorney General, Adam Laxalt (who father is former US Senator Pietro Vici Domenici) has Italian heritage. Las Vegas offers opportunity to people with skills, risk takers and hard workers --positions that Italian Americans are well adapted to because they had parents and grandparents who left Italy for exactly the same reasons (and they grew up hearing stories about leaving the homeland for opportunity and success if one was just willing to work hard enough for it).
Las Vegas is an ideal city for people (i.e. Italian Americans) who are committed to exceeding expectations. And we believe that the commitment to exceed expectations is one of the factors that sets Italian Americans apart from others: while others do a job until it is good enough, Italian Americans do it until they are proud of the results and believe that others will be equally proud.
With only about 2,000,000 permanent residents, Italian Americans here know who the other Italian Americans are. Las Vegas has other strong ethnic and religious groups, such as Chinese, Filipino, Hispanic, Jewish, Mormon. Italian Americans uniquely cover the entire spectrum of employment (though, unlike Filipino, Hispanic and blacks, it is not easy to find a large number of unskilled Italian American workers). One will find a large percentage of Italian American who are lawyers, doctors, architects, judges, accountants, executives, artists entertainers and entrepreneurs.
There are over 100,000 people in the Las Vegas area that claim some Italian descent. Virtually all of these people moved here in the past 30 years: this is significant because almost all either came from Italy or from another Italian American community. As such, Las Vegas is like a second generation migration west (the first migration was from Italy to the USA). The people who moved were those who were willing to give-up what they had, for their belief that something better was in the West. When these people moved here starting in the 70's, they were able to meet virtually every other Italian American or had common acquaintances and as the city double in size over and over, almost every Italian American is two-steps removed from everyone else. This does not occur in the large Italian American communities; there, people know people in their local community but not many others.
For example, there are a few Italian American families that have been in town for 50+ years, including Ruvo, Perry, Tiberti, Marnell, Fertitta; today, virtually all the other 100,000 Italian Americans knows someone who knows them. Thus, Las Vegas is much more tightly knit that the older communities.
There also are approximately 1.5 million Italian Americans that visit Las Vegas for business and/or pleasure each year. Most come from cities that have large Italian American communities. When they arrive they are treated to Italian architecture in the casinos, scores of world-class Italian restaurants, Italian American entertainers and the permanent residents. These interactions with our flavor of Italian American culture bring their older cultures here and our more vibrant, dynamic culture is carried home with them. Few people leave Las Vegas unimpressed with what it offers.
Is there a personality or a place that is particularly significant to represent Italy in Las Vegas or in Nevada?
Caesars Palace, The Venetian, the Palazzo, Bellagio are excellent representations and ambassadors to Italy. The quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail is world class. Further the restaurants, entertainers, artists, executives and managers who work in these places enforce the belief that Italians and Italian Americans are instrumental in Las Vegas' growth and its future. Restaurants, like Trattoria Reggiano, Il Mulino, Zeffirino's, Ferraro's, Gina's Bistro and Roma Deli hire chefs and staff who were born and raised in Italy.
One of the reasons that Las Vegas is often recognized as one of the world's seven great cities is because it is a city where ideas can be turned into reality. A trait of Italians is the ability to turn an idea --be it clothing, art, cars, music, construction, etc.-- into a real thing.
Italians can imagine a thing and then build it; and that is the real story of Italian Americans in Las Vegas. This city was built in the past 40 years (in 1975 the population was just over 350,000; today it is almost 2,000,000); mostly by skilled tradesmen who moved from the east because there was cheap land, a good climate and the opportunity to be successful. Las Vegas attracted the risk takers and hard workers.
You are the Vice President of the Italian American Club of Las Vegas. Please tell us something more about it
The Club is known as, "The swankiest Club on the planet!" We have almost 700 members, mostly professionals and business owners, and most are Italian. The Club was recognized as having the Best Italian Restaurant by the city's newspaper (The Review Journal) critics. Though the food is great, it is the entertainment and the atmosphere that earned the Club the award.
Because the average member of the Club is close to 70 years old, almost all are truly Italian Americans (i.e. they had a parent or grandparent who came from Italy); as such, they have almost first hand experience to Italian culture 100 years ago, when their relatives came to America. These people love those customs and want to do what they can to secure their future existence.
Though there are hundreds of Italian American Clubs in the USA, ours is unique because it is located in the dining and entertainment capital of the world (and a large percentage of our members were in the entertainment and/or dining business): the almost 42 million tourists (people who come here planning to spend money), enable Las Vegas to offer the finest ingredients produced, the finest chefs, the finest waiters and staff, the finest entertainment, etc. Many of the Club's members are entertainers or restaurant owners; as such, we have access to things that other clubs simply don't have.
You also are the publisher of Ciao Tutti, a wonderful monthly magazine that is quickly growing in terms of contents, followers and distribution ...
Ciao Tutti's mission is to help Italian American clubs and Italian organizations remain relevant in today's social climate. Today people have so many choices as to how to spend their free time, it is difficult for most Italian American Clubs to compete; and because most clubs rely on volunteer labor, survival is even more difficult if there isn't something else.
Ciao Tutti helps spread the word about local clubs throughout their local community. Business owners give the magazine away for free. Our experience is that there are Italian Americans searching for connectedness to their Italian roots. The more we learn of our Italian roots and culture, the more we appreciate them. Our goal is to focus on the best of the best people, places and events in the Italian American communities we serve; to acknowledge the accomplishments of those who make our community better; and to understand what makes those of Italian genetics so special. Our motto is, "It's what's on the inside..."
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