LAS VEGAS (AP) — As Marimar Rivera and Johann Rucker strolled along the twisting dirt path of the Neon Museum’s Boneyard, their faces were illuminated by glowing signs of Las Vegas’ past.
Speaking in Spanish, they outlined the signs’ history, construction and preservation.
Rucker and Rivera were practicing for the recent start of tours entirely in Spanish at the downtown Las Vegas museum that features signs from old casinos and other businesses.
Through the years, some museum interpreters have translated English-spoken tours at the request of Spanish-speaking guests. But Rivera said Spanish-exclusive tours would serve a larger demographic.
“In the sense of our museum, especially in Las Vegas, especially in the community where we are located right now, we need to have accessibility,” she told the Las Vegas Sun. “If we are a museum, and we really are trying to educate anyone and everyone that comes to our doors, we need to develop tours in other types of languages.”
The museum is a nonprofit founded in 1996 that collects, preserves and studies Las Vegas neon, including the huge vibrant and pink script Moulin Rouge sign, designed by Betty Willis.
The Moulin Rouge hotel and casino was open for several months in 1955 in the West Las Vegas neighborhood as the first racially integrated casino in the U.S. It became famous for hosting black entertainers who performed at segregated venues, and protests after its closure sparked an agreement to desegregate the Las Vegas Strip.
Willis in 1959 also designed the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” marker on Las Vegas Boulevard. That sign gained National Register listing in 2009.
The Neon Boneyard Main Collection is a maze of these radiant signs as well as the location of the museum’s tours.
Aaron Berger, museum executive director, said its many Spanish-speaking visitors are a key reason for offering this service.
“It’s been a desire for years to offer this to our visitors,” he said. “It really has been, from my perspective, a barrier and not welcoming all the participants who could be coming through the Neon Museum and have an opportunity to explore, learn and just have a good time in our facility.”
In Clark County, 31.6% of 2.3 million residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to 2020 Census data. Nevada’s 3 million residents are more than 29% Hispanic or Latino.
Rucker and Rivera said they worked closely with Matt Martelo, training supervisor and former museum interpreter, to put together the tours in Spanish.
One aspect of the tour they worked to sharpen, they said, was the type of Spanish they would speak.
Rucker’s family is from Mexico City while Rivera is from Puerto Rico. Tina Romero, a third Spanish-speaking interpreter, is from Cuba.
Determining a neutral, easily translated Spanish was essential to ensuring the tour would be comprehensible to Spanish-speaking residents from different countries with diverse dialects.
“If we can be a little bit that much more inviting to that portion of the Las Vegas population, I think that will only help our case as well,” Martelo said.
Just under a year into his position, Rucker said he appreciated how quickly the museum enacted the idea.
“I don’t know why we wouldn’t be trying to get the wealth of information that we have with our wonderful collection, with all these perspectives we have at the museum, to as many people as possible,” he said. “I think what I’m particularly proud of, I guess, is that now everybody can hopefully start to truly, on a deep level, enjoy what we have to offer.”
Customer demand for the Spanish tours will define future scheduling, Berger said.
All tours at the museum, Spanish or English, are 45 minutes, and tickets are $28 per person, $24 for southern Nevada residents. Residents should specifically choose Spanish-speaking tours when ordering tickets online.