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July 30, 2014

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Where the islands meet the desert

Annual Pacific Islands Festival brings tropical taste to Southern Nevada

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Justin M. Bowen

Members of the Na Hula Hali’a dance group perform during the 21st Ho’olaule’a Pacific Islands Festival in downtown Henderson Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.

Pacific Islands Festival

Members of the Denver-based Kalama Polynesian Dancers group perform during the 21st Ho'olaule'a Pacific Islands Festival in downtown Henderson Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Map of Henderson Events Plaza

Henderson Events Plaza

200 S Water St, Henderson

Using a needle and dental floss, Tamar Hoapili grabs a pink orchid flower, fresh from Hawaii, and places the needle through the middle. She gently pushes the colorful flower to the end and grabs another. She continues this process until she creates a lei, the traditional garland of her native Hawaii. With a kiss on the cheek the lei is draped on its receiver as a symbol of aloha, or welcoming.

At the annual Ho’olaule’a Pacific Islands Festival in Henderson, Hoapili and others are teaching a table of young girls to make the customary lei, kukui nut keychains and ribbon wristlets common in Hawaii.

“Las Vegas is so dry but we have been able to improvise. Sometimes you will see various trees and flowers but there is nothing like the beauty, colors and the smell from the flowers of the island,” said Hoapili. “Each flower has a representation. It could represent where you are from — depending on the flowers of each island or area on the island — and your heritage as well.”

The annual Pacific Island festival, in its 21st year, is a fundraiser by the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club to raise money for college scholarships.

Oni Onekea, a member of the club since 1989, said that there are more than 380,000 native Hawaiians in Nevada.

“We want to make sure that we spread the Polynesian culture, especially for those that are living here up in the mainland,” said Onekea, who is half Hawaiian.

The two-day festival has been held in downtown Henderson for the past five years and features live music, dancing, vendors and crafts.

This year Irene Ramos brought her two children back to the festival. She was looking forward to eating some malasadas, a Portuguese deep-fried donut covered in sugar, also sold at the event.

“Oh, the food is the best part,” said Ramos.

Other cultures represented at the celebration are Samoans, Tahitians, Koreans and other Pacific Islanders.

Hoapili said although a number of Pacific Islanders now call Las Vegas home, Hawaii is still their “piko.”

“It’s the foundation that we walk on,” said Hoapili. “Piko is like the human naval that represents a connection to your mother; a connection to your home. Hawaii is our piko.”

The festival continues Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Henderson Events Plaza.

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  1. As a native Las Vegan I think one of the best things that has happened to this community in the past few years is the migration of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to our city. What a great group of people.