Thursday, March 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Twenty years ago, Laura Espinosa was working in the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City.
Her niece’s birthday was approaching and Espinosa asked what she wanted. Her niece, at just 7 years old, blurted out: “Las Vegas!”
Apparently the lights of Las Vegas had captured the young girl’s imagination. So, Espinosa brought the young girl to Southern Nevada. Then, her niece asked for a trip to Las Vegas the next year, and the next. Every year of Espinosa’s five-year stint in Salt Lake City, she visited Vegas with her niece.
Now, Espinosa is back in Las Vegas as the new deputy consul, and while she is not uncontrollably drawn to the Strip like her now-grown niece, Espinosa is bubbling with enthusiasm for getting to know the Mexican community in Las Vegas and improving consular services.
“I came back later with friends and visited Las Vegas, so I’ve seen it grow over the years,” Espinosa said in Spanish. “I’m happy to be here, but I just don’t know what I’ll do about the heat.”
In July, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party won the Mexican presidency. As the new administration has been installed, changes have rippled out to include Mexico’s foreign services.
Mariano Lemus, the Mexican consul in Las Vegas for eight years, left in February. The Mexican government has not named a head consul for Las Vegas yet, and it is unclear when one will be appointed. Espinosa arrived recently in Las Vegas as the new deputy consul. She will be running the place until a new consul arrives, and then Espinosa will stay on as the second-in-charge.
Espinosa, a 32-year veteran of Mexico’s foreign service, most recently worked in Mexico City on a project to upgrade the Mexican passport, which now carries 44 different security safeguards. Previously, she worked in Salt Lake City, Montreal and Kenya.
What are your first impressions of the Las Vegas Mexican community?
The Mexican community is a little divided here. A lot of Mexicans here are unified by community organizations by state. So, they say I’m from the state of Puebla, or I’m from the state of Jalisco … and yes, there are important commonalities between people of those states, but we are principally Mexicans, and we have a wonderful shared heritage.
It is a strong community, and it’s a community that’s important for the casinos. Twenty years ago, you didn’t hear Spanish much. Now, a good number of the valets, the waiters, the cooks, the whole workforce, are Latinos or Mexican.
It’s a community that has evolved a lot, but it’s also a community that needs our work.
The consulate does not get involved in U.S. political matters, but immigration reform will affect the Mexican community. What concerns do you have as the process moves forward in Washington, D.C.?
We have to pay attention to the discussions in Washington, D.C., and the most important thing from a consular perspective is to make sure the people here in our community aren’t cheated by those who want to take advantage of the situation.
That is one of my first objectives. I saw the implementation of immigration reform in the United States before, and the lawyers came out, the notaries came out, and they really cheated a lot of people. They take their money and do nothing, or make the situation worse. And it’s not just Mexicans; they will cheat Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans and Canadians.
What is something you have gotten started on early in your tenure?
We are organizing a fair to showcase the consulate’s services (April 20, at the Mexican Consulate, 823 S. Sixth St.). We want to tell the community that we are here to help, and put people in contact with more services.
We will have Metro Police, Immigration Services, Department of Family Services, Legal Aid and other attorneys all here to answer questions and talk with people.
What is an area you want to focus on, or where you see a deficiency?
Education. It is sad how many of our children are dropping out of school. We have to do more to make sure the children are learning English and staying in school. We have to put the message out there that education is significant. … If you want to be in charge one day, you have to go to school; if not, you’ll be the one taking orders.
An extension of that is learning English. Everyone living here should work to learn English. I’m a bit out of practice and my English is not good, but when I go out, I speak English. You have to make the effort, because otherwise, if you never learn, you are distanced from society.
I know many adults work eight or 10 hours a day, and they are tired when they come home. But they must force themselves to work on English. We have parents taking their kids with them to do transactions because they can’t speak the language. You can’t rely on your children to translate important things.
Do you think Mexico has gotten a bad reputation in recent years?
Unfortunately, much of the news that comes out of Mexico is about violence, and one mission of the consulate is to promote Mexico. And, security is a shared goal of the two countries.
Mexico has a long and rich heritage. We have a lot to offer tourists and investors. We have great cuisine, and great destinations like Guanajuato and Chichen Itza … We also have the infrastructure, transportation and workforce for more investment. I recently learned that Mexico has more engineering graduates than China.
We want to work so people here get to know the real Mexico. We have to share the culture, the heritage, the good side of Mexico with North Americans. We have a lot to offer.