Unbeknownst to most visitors, Las Vegas is home to a unique niche tourism: it is overwhelmingly the vacation destination of choice for residents of the state of Hawai’i, even affectionately termed the “Ninth Island.” It is estimated that 1 in 10 residents of Hawai’i visit Las Vegas at least once per year. These Hawaiian travelers to Las Vegas primarily select The California Hotel, nicknamed, “The Cal,” as their preferred sleeping, gambling, eating, and socializing venue. Located near Fremont Street, the exterior of The Cal still reflects its original identity as a California-themed establishment, however, the interior reflects its forty-year history of transformation into a Hawaiian home-away-from-home, with island themed décor, banquet rooms labeled in the Hawaiian language, and multiple eateries offering Hawaiian favorites. In this presentation, we look at the “tourist imaginary” created at The Cal through an examination of the hotel’s history and built environment. Their recent research in the Lied Library Special Collections and Archives provide a context for understanding the relationship between the Boyd Gaming Corporation, which developed and owns The California Hotel, and its Hawaiian gaming clientele.
Cynthia Van Gilder earned her MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where she researched the sociopolitics of Polynesian archaeology, ethnic identity, and narratives of cultural heritage. Since joining the Anthropology faculty at St. Mary’s College of California, Van Gilder has published on gender and household archaeology in Hawai’i, the use of practice theory in archaeology, and the anthropology of tourism. This “Hawaiian Vegas” research builds on her long-standing interests in how narratives of cultural identity are constructed, experienced, and maintained, particularly in ethnically diverse Hawai’i.
Dana R. Herrera earned her MA and PhD from the University of California, Davis, where she conducted ethnographic research on the intersections of race, gender, and religion with political affiliation in the Philippines. Since joining the Anthropology faculty at St. Mary’s College of California, her research has included identity construction in online gaming communities, the Filipino diaspora in Central Europe, and the anthropology of tourism. This “Hawaiian Vegas” project builds on her long-standing interests in the economics of tourism and globalized patterns of ethnic migration/movement, particularly among diverse Asian communities.
Herrera and Van Gilder's talk: “Playing Paradise: The California Hotel and Hawaiian Tourist Imaginaries” is scheduled for January 18 at 3 p.m., Goldfield Room, Lied Library, UNLV campus.