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July 5, 2022

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UNLV ‘We Need To Talk’ series’ focus shines light on Las Vegas’ eastside

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Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services

“We Need to Talk” host Claytee White, director of the UNLV Oral History Research Center, is shown in a February 18, 2021 file photo.

Before Nathalie Martinez graduated from UNLV in 2021, she worked as a student oral historian for the Latinx Voices Project, collecting oral stories in English and Spanish about the eastside of Las Vegas.

She spoke with a variety of residents, including families and business owners, and she learned more about the burgeoning Latino community in the area.

Martinez will discuss this research at 2:30 p.m. today during “We Need To Talk: Conversations on Racism for a More Resilient Las Vegas,” a periodical event presented by UNLV Libraries and the Greenspun College at the Greenspun Hall Auditorium.

“You can honestly spend the entire day without speaking a word of English (in the eastside),” said Martinez, who attended middle school in the area.

Joining Martinez will be Ivet Aldaba, lecturer in the UNLV School of Social Work; Serafin Calvo, director of the city of North Las Vegas’ Community Services and Engagement; and Jose Contreras, senior management analyst at the city of Las Vegas’ Office of Community Services.

The “We Need To Talk” series was created by Su Kim Chung, head of public services in special collections and archives at the UNLV Libraries, spurred by the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Chung said this month’s event would focus on COVID-19’s impact on the eastside’s Latino community, which was severely affected by the pandemic.

“I’m excited to just bring some attention to parts of Las Vegas and communities in Las Vegas that have been … potentially overlooked in the past,” she said.

Of the 2.2 million residents in Clark County, approximately 32% are Hispanic or Latino, according to 2020 census data. Much of this population is based in the eastside, which covers the region east of Las Vegas Boulevard and spans the neighborhoods running parallel to Bonanza, nearly to the edge of Sunrise Mountain.

Each panelist will explore the eastside’s Latino roots, the culture that exists there and the projects happening in the area that have enriched the lives of residents. The conversation will be hosted by Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries.

One such project is the East Las Vegas Library, something Calvo was involved in creating, he said. Calvo said he advocated for the library because of the resources it could deliver to a community in need, like free, public Wi-Fi. The library, part of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, opened in 2019.

“It’s something that I’ve been advocating for years,” he said. “I think it’s important to be able to help a community such as the East Las Vegas community, where the majority are … Spanish speaking, a majority are immigrants from another country.”

Martinez said she was looking forward to hearing the other panelists’ experiences with the eastside. In her oral history research, Martinez studied the 28th Street gang, a group that originated downtown with ties to Sureños, gangs attributed to the Mexican Mafia.

She said she thought many current residents may harbor negative perspectives of the eastside because of gang presences — that the area was unsafe or violent. But to Martinez, the area is “a thriving community that has had its hardships,” something she learned through the Latinx Voices Project.

“That doesn’t disregard it as being a place where people can still thrive, learn, grow and doesn’t mean that community doesn’t deserve resources that other communities have been so privileged to have,” she said.

The event is free and open to the public. It will also be livestreamed on the UNLV Libraries website and on the UNLV Facebook page.