Little Ethiopia in Las Vegas: Interview with Assemblyman Alexander Assefa

Assemblyman Alexander Assefa of the Nevada State Assembly. (@AlexAssefa4NV)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: February 21st, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — The vibrant small businesses in central Las Vegas that are owned by Ethiopian entrepreneurs will likely get a boost when their neighborhood officially becomes designated as ‘Little Ethiopia’ in the next few months.

“Little Ethiopia is literally located within less than two miles away from the tourist district,” Assemblyman Alexander Assefa said in a recent interview with Tadias.

Assemblyman Alex (as he is popularly known within the Ethiopian community) added: “The byproduct of being known and exposed for the rest of the world is that you get to start solving problems within your own community. Especially intra-community issues and things that are challenging, particularly to the immigrant community and to the Ethiopian American community here in Las Vegas. This is part of a multi-faceted approach to getting long-term solutions for our people.”

Little Ethiopia in Las Vegas will also become the first officially designated cultural neighborhood in Nevada, and only the second Little Ethiopia neighborhood in the United States.

“Little Ethiopia is a very diverse place, a beautiful area,” Assemblyman Assefa enthused. “Everybody should visit Las Vegas and when you do make sure you stop by and experience the hospitality and the amazing people that we have here.” He added: “It’s truly an emblematic of who we are as Ethiopians: hospitable, kind, and fun to hang out with. It’s a very bright place to be.”

Assefa shared that when he first came up with the idea, his state had never done such a thing before. “The whole concept was strange to them and they didn’t know what the hell to do with me,” he laughed. They said, “We don’t have legislation that allows us to do what you’re asking to do.” Alex told them: “Well, that is why as lawmakers we write the law and we make it happen.”

Recalling the process Alex added: “We literally worked on what we call, the ‘Cultural District Designation Policy’ over the summer. And generally this is a policy that is an umbrella for everybody else, not just little Ethiopia.”

The Cultural District Designation Policy “is a guidance for any other community that comes forward with a similar issue. They would have to fulfill the requirements of this policy and be compliant with the guidelines that are set forth in the policy.” The policy was officially adopted in September 2019 and Alex was able to introduce a resolution for Little Ethiopia.

Assemblyman Assefa represents Nevada’s 42nd Assembly District, which includes the proposed Little Ethiopia enclave, and he is the first Ethiopian American to be elected into office in the Nevada Legislature. To our knowledge he is also the first Ethiopian American ever elected in the U.S. to a state-wide governing body.

But before the Board of County Commissioners in Clark County, Nevada approves the Little Ethiopia resolution, however, the proposal must be presented before two town boards whose geographical locations encompass the neighborhood that boasts at least 60 Ethiopian small businesses including coffee shops, markets and 17 restaurants.

“I have to show up before them and defend my proposal and answer their questions,” Assemblyman Assefa told Tadias. “Little Ethiopia, as proposed right now, crisscrosses two town boards jurisdictions, the Paradise Town Board and Spring Valley Town Board.”

Assemblyman Assefa admits that the process has not been easy but he is optimistic of the final result. “There are people that support the resolution and there are people that oppose it; the conversation is ongoing,” he continued. “So the politics of it was pretty frustrating to say the least, but we’re in the final stages and have a solid idea of the size of the district and and where it will be.”


Assemblyman Alexander Assefa and County Commissioner Michael Naft at a Coffee and Conversation event with residents of their district in Las Vegas, Aug 16, 2019. (@AlexAssefa4NV)


Residents attend a Coffee and Conversation event in Las Vegas hosted by Assemblyman Alexander Assefa and Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, Aug 16, 2019. (@AlexAssefa4NV)


Assemblyman Alexander Assefa speaking at the 18th Anniversary of Little Ethiopia Los Angeles, Sep 10, 2019. (@AlexAssefa4NV)


(@AlexAssefa4NV)


Assemblyman Alexander Assefa attends Meskel 2019 celebration with Las Vegas Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Churches. (@AlexAssefa4NV)

According to local media there are an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Ethiopians in the Las Vegas area, but they also point out that this estimate is at odds with the official count that indicates a much lower number. “You hear all sorts of numbers as to how many of us exists here,” Assemblyman Assefa said. “I’ve lived here since 2006. I came to the United States in 2000, and my experience has been that I have seen an exponential increase of Ethiopians who have immigrated here or arrived from other states to Nevada, especially during the economic downturn and the recession that we had between 2008 and 2012.”

In part, Assefa said, that’s because Nevada is a very affordable state to live in. “The cost of living is very low, we don’t have income tax here,” he said. “we have a service industry that is very fairly easy to get into and make decent money without having to spend a lot on your cost of living.” He noted that: “In return what that means is that you can aspire to be a small business owner. So we had a very large influx. But at the end of the day, we still don’t know how many people we have here who are descendants of Ethiopians.”

Assemblyman Assefa also announced his re-election campaign this week, stating that Ethiopian Americans play a very important role in the makeup of Las Vegas, yet generally are not known to the larger community. “We are not seen because, in part, we don’t participate in the affairs of our communities, in the electoral process or in other activities. We generally keep to ourselves. The concept behind introducing Little Ethiopia is to change that and to allow the larger community to interact with the Ethiopian community.”

Regarding his record so far as an Assemblyman in the Nevada Legislature, Assefa shared that in his first 120 days in office he was involved in about 64 different bills and legislations that he either introduced and worked on in the Legislature that impacts the healthcare sector, education, criminal justice, and affordable housing. “All of these are hot button issues that are important for our people. I was involved in and making sure that our voice was reflected in the policymaking process,” he said. “The vast majority of those bills are currently signed by our state governor and are state law.”

“Now I’m asking the support of everybody to help me get re-elected and get back to the legislature to continue working on the progress that I started in 2019,” says Alex, “and to build on top of that to leave a better legacy and a better Nevada. So if you are not in Las Vegas specifically, you’re not in my district then obviously, you cannot vote for me. If you are here, I ask that you vote for me. But anybody who is a resident of the United States can also contribute to my campaign.”

As the Little Ethiopia resolution goes towards the final stage in the approval process it includes taking recommendations of the town boards back to the seven-member county commission for a final vote.

“The goal is to get seven out of seven votes in favor of the resolution,” Assemblyman Assefa shared. “You do have to have the majority of the county Board of Commissioners, that’s four votes out of seven. But we’re shooting for 7 out of 7.”


Related:

‘Little Ethiopia’ district is now a step closer to becoming a reality

‘Little Ethiopia’ may find home in central Las Vegas

You can learn more about Assemblyman Alexander Assefa at www.assefa4thepeople.com.

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