Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Mariano Lemus likes to meet the people who he is in charge of helping as the consul general of Mexico in Las Vegas.
He regularly roams the large waiting room at the consulate in his daily uniform: a suit, tie and thin, wire-rimmed glasses. He shakes hands, greets toddlers and introduces himself to the dozens of people in line or filling out forms.
It was not long ago that more than 200 people per day would file through a small rented office in downtown Las Vegas for consular business. The space was crowded and afforded little room for anything other than the most basic consulate responsibilities.
Eight years after taking the position, Lemus is moving back to Mexico. He’ll leave behind a legacy of community building and bolstering the consulte to better serve both Mexican nationals living in Southern Nevada and the community as a whole.
At the top of his list of accomplishments is the building Lemus now enjoys wandering. In October 2010, the consulate moved out of a cramped downtown office space and into a yellow two-story building at South Sixth Street and Hoover Avenue. Now, visitors at the consulate have a much more comfortable wait, and the building can play host to art exhibits, cultural events and other community activities.
“We have a property that is owned by the Mexican government, that can respond to the expectations of the Mexican community,” Lemus said, smiling widely at the thought of how far the consulate has come in his eight years.
Mariano Lemus Gas, 64, was born in Mexico City and has spent his life in service to his country. Since 1970, he has worked virtually nonstop for either the Mexican federal government or foreign service.
He first served as a consul in Seattle, where he worked from 1997 to 2001. After a three-year stint working for the Mexican Senate, he took the position of Mexican Consul in Las Vegas on Jan. 27, 2005.
“As consul you face many challenges with our communities, plural,” he said. “It is very important to keep in mind that we are not just one community, there is a diversity of Mexicans abroad with many different goals.”
Other than the new building, Lemus counts nourishing the community of Mexicans in Nevada, approximately 541,000 according to the 2010 census, and bolstering relations between the Mexican federal government and the state as two of his primary accomplishments.
Lemus supported community organizations that banded together Mexican immigrants who came from the same regions.
“When I first came here there were maybe two organizations for people from a couple of Mexican states,” he said. “Now we have at least 10 organizations and at least 50 clubs. These help build unity in the community and allow people to support each other.”
During Lemus’ tenure in Las Vegas, former Mexican President Vicente Fox came to visit, and in 2011 Felipe Calderon, then the sitting Mexican president, visited to address the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit.
“Politicians never came to Las Vegas before,” Lemus said. “There used to be a fear of coming here because the public would criticize politicians who came here because of the perception that it was to gamble and simply have fun. For that reason politicians, and even Mexicans from the private sector, would avoid being recognized in Las Vegas.”
In 2011 Lemus also organized a meeting between Sen. Harry Reid and the Mexican Senate majority leader at the time, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, as part of the opening of the new consulate building.
Lemus also worked to protect the interests and rights of the Mexican community in the Silver State.
“With the debate over immigration that was very tense in 2007, and even before that, and has carried on to this day, we tried to support the community,” Lemus said. “I cannot meddle in politics, but we can help the community emphasize the benefits of their presence and point out the positives of immigration.”
As a piecemeal approach to immigration enforcement developed around federal strategies that partnered with local authorities, Lemus invited officials from ICE, Metro Police and other agencies to the consulate to talk with the community and address concerns.
In 2011, the consulate also assisted Mexican agricultural workers who were in northern Nevada on guest worker visas file a class action suit against Peri & Sons Farms for wage violations. The suit resulted in the onion farmers paying $2.3 million in back wages to the guest workers.
“Consul Lemus was a great asset to this community, and he will be missed by many people,” said Priscilla Rocha, who organizes a Mexican-American community group. “He did a lot of things that were notable. He did his best to help families who were being separated by deportations. And when someone passed away and the family didn’t have the funding to transport the body to Mexico, he stepped up to the plate to find funding for families to bury their loved ones in Mexico.”
Many people in the Las Vegas community are lamenting Lemus’ departure.
“It’s a pity that we are losing him,” said Otto Merida, president of the Latin Chamber of Commerce. “He didn’t just do his duties as Consul General of Mexico, he was very much involved with the Mexican community and the Hispanic community in general in Southern Nevada. He was also very much involved in economic development and was always interested in partnerships to help the community.”
Still, Lemus could not accomplish everything he wanted to in his eight years in Las Vegas.
He said his successor should continue to work on unifying all Hispanics — not just Mexicans — in Southern Nevada. He would like to see more cultural events in Las Vegas, and one of his biggest regrets is never opening a consular office in Northern Nevada. The consulate attempts to provide services in the northern part of the state on a monthly basis, but there is no permanent office and some people are forced to travel to Las Vegas for service.
“One of my biggest frustrations was not being able to open an office in Reno or Elko,” Lemus said. “Our population follows the same pattern, there are two Nevadas, a north and a south. I think to serve our population well, we need an office in the north. That will be one of the big challenges for the next consul.”
Lemus is leaving because he will turn 65 this year, the mandatory retirement age for Mexican foreign service employees. He is a member of the PRI, the party that won the presidential election in 2012, and expects to return to a federal government position in March in Mexico City, where his two adult daughters live.
“I am a workaholic, I don’t like to go home and hang out with friends. I hate it,” he said. “I feel young. I feel my mentality is of a 50 year old, not 65.”