Just to preface, this was recently written for my English class, and I call him Joseph Robert as a way of sneaking around the fact that I wrote my paper about my husband. Living on the edge.
Joseph Robert is a native Las Vegan. For him, Vegas means home, family, and heritage. “Everyone always thinks it’s so different,” he says, “but it’s not that different.” This might sound surprising coming from a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he unwaveringly loves his hometown. Before I met Joseph, my only interaction with the city had been in my youth on a road trip with my mother. All I can remember is her rushing me through a smoky casino to an all you can eat buffet; her horror at letting her child walk through such a place overshadows that memory. And yet, Joseph takes pride in where he comes from. He nodded his head while saying, “They call it Sin City for a reason, but… I think there is beauty to Vegas. Vegas has a special place in the hearts of many Las Vegans.”
Joseph’s statement proves true. In an article titled “Home Means Las Vegas,” which appeared in Las Vegas Weekly, April Corbin interviews Garre Mathis, a Las Vegas native who grew up in the city in the 1950’s. The publication reads, “‘It’s a good place to live,’ [Mathis] says. He never quite understood why all of his kids itched to get out of Las Vegas once they became adults. ‘They all did manage to leave for a while, but they all came back.’” The article goes on to say, “Mathis and his wife, Jan, a reading strategist and schoolteacher, have three kids, all born in Las Vegas. Those kids are all grown up now with litters of their own, also born in the city. The family is proud of its multiple generations, and Mathis says many of their experiences are the same. They still camp, fish, four-wheel and hunt—just in different places. The outskirts of town are far different now than when Mathis was a younger man.”
Much like Mathis, Joseph is proud of his Las Vegas heritage. As a member of the LDS church he grows excited when he can share that Las Vegas was actually founded by pioneers of the LDS church. “A portion of the original Mormon fort still stands in downtown Las Vegas as a historic site… the settlement of Las Vegas made it easier to settle much more of the west.” Joseph’s love and knowledge of historic Las Vegas has been cultivated as he has grown older. Much of this love comes from the love he has for his family. To Joseph Las Vegas means family and like Mathis, his family has been in Vegas for generations: "1947 was when my Grandpa came, and my Grandma came shortly thereafter. Most of the family on that side has lived here. Two of my Grandparent’s sons have moved away, but most everyone else stayed here and the ones that moved away frequently visit. I see my family, my cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and siblings, and I want them to do well, so I want the city to be successful also.” The love he has for his family shines through his words, and he smiles as he talks about them through almost every question of the interview.
Although Las Vegas is Joseph’s home and it does remind him of his family, he readily admits that the darker side of the city has had an impact on him as well. Growing up in the town has brought him face to face with drug using strippers, pornographic fliers littering the streets, and a dying hobo. “I used to clean a Law Office downtown on Saturday mornings,” he says while ruffling his hair and looking down at his shoes. “One morning there was a homeless man who was dying. I called the ambulance, but he was already dead, probably from a drug overdose. I didn’t get a great look at him, I just knew he was in trouble. When I had found out that he had died it was super shocking and almost depressing. It was such a gross way to die, in the grossest part of town in the back of a law firm by the trash.” He added, “There are parts of town that are dirty, greasy, sleazy, or dangerous. And it’s not that fun to be in those places. You just don’t go there.” The dangerous parts of the town have not deterred him however. If anything these experiences have strengthened his resolve on the importance of following God’s commandments and living a clean life. He states that these are the things which will bring happiness.
“Today there really are two worlds to Las Vegas,” Joseph says, “There are the tourist locations, and then there are the residential communities, parks, and homes.” For Joseph, his love of his community is a large part of who he is. He dreams of making the town better and better for its residents but more specifically for his family. He loves the heat of the desert and has fond memories of swimming with his cousins all summer long. Las Vegas is in his blood and it always will be.