Neon Museum Offers Spanish Tours

Yasmina Chavez

Tour guides Marimar Rivera and Johann Rucker practice giving a guided tour in Spanish WednesdaySept. 29, 2021, at the Neon Museum. The Neon Museum started offering guided tours in Spanish Friday night.

Marimar Rivera and Johann Rucker strolled along the twisting dirt path of the Neon Museum’s Boneyard, faces 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 Friday, when the downtown Las Vegas museum conducted its first tours entirely in Spanish. Through the years, some museum interpreters have translated English-spoken tours at the request of Spanish-speaking guests.

But Friday was the first time the museum offered Spanish-exclusive tours of its collection — a novel and permanent service Rivera said would serve a large demographic for the museum.

“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 said. “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 signage, including the iconic, vibrant and pink Moulin Rouge sign, designed by Betty Willis. The Neon Boneyard Main Collection is a maze of these radiant signs as well as the location of the museum’s tours.

Aaron Berger, the museum’s executive director, said that many Spanish-speaking residents frequent the museum, a key reason to offering this service, he said.

“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 the 2.3 million residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to 2020 Census data, while of Nevada’s 3 million residents, 29.2% are Hispanic or Latino.

A publicist said that while specific demographics for the museum were not available, the museum’s visitors likely reflect the general public.

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, more easily translated Spanish was essential to ensuring the tour would be comprehensible to Spanish-speaking residents from across different countries and 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 museum staff enacted this 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.

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