Vincent Nava is standing on the balcony of the Grant Sawyer Building, home to the Nevada governor’s offices. He points out central Las Vegas. That’s where he grew up.
“Around the old Huntridge Theater,” he says. “On Maryland Parkway.”
Nava, 29, is the senior advisor and diversity and inclusion liaison for the Nevada governor’s office for new Americans. He helps new immigrants and resettled refugees transition to life in Nevada.
“They’re us. They're our neighbor. This is us. We have to do what we can to take care of each other,” Nava said. He is a UNLV graduate who received his bachelor's degree in political science in 2016 and his master's degree in public administration in 2019.
For Nava, the role is a personal one. Taking in the city’s view from the governor’s balcony grounds him. He often reflects on his parents' story of starting over.
His parents emigrated from Mexico to Las Vegas in the 1980s. Nava was born and raised in Las Vegas and grew up watching his parents adjust to new social norms, work in the hospitality industry, and help their three children attend and graduate from UNLV.
“I just remember my mom wearing a red and black dress, and she was just very happy,” Nava said, recalling being at his mother’s citizenship ceremony when he was a kid.
Nava now researches how federal, state, and local policies affect immigrants. He and his colleagues also provide direct services. His day can range from meeting community leaders and attending a cultural celebration to guiding people on what forms to fill out for the naturalization process or the department of motor vehicles.
“I don't want immigrants to ever feel they are not welcome. I want them to feel like they are at the right place and they belong and they have the right to be able to ask or seek out what they are looking for, too,” Nava said.
His work involves understanding barriers that prevent a new immigrant from upward mobility.
Because immigration policies are constantly changing, Nava and his colleagues seek to lift those barriers. Imagine moving to a new country for various reasons, he explained. Coming here for new opportunities by choice or moving because of displacement. Where do you begin? What steps do you take to enroll in English classes? How do you find a job?
“They have different needs and everyone’s looking for the same thing too. There’s differences but at the same time, everybody belongs here,” he said.
Nava started an initiative called “New American Voices,” and led an in-person meeting with Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and stakeholder groups June 23 in Las Vegas. Community leaders shared their experiences with helping the immigrant community and offered input on how to better streamline services. Representatives included groups such as Catholic Charities, the African Community Center, New American Leaders, Asian Community Development, and the UNLV Immigration Clinic.
Of Nava, Sisolak said, “He cares so much about this and he does a tremendous job. Now, more than ever, we have to ensure all voices are heard, especially immigrant voices and narratives.”
The journey here
There were several moments that led Nava to his current role.
While he was applying for college, financial aid, and scholarships in high school, what he found was his citizenship status set him apart from his friends who wouldn’t apply because they were undocumented and afraid to even try.
Another inflection point came when Nava counseled students at Nevada State College, where he was one of the first Spanish-speaking advisors. He worked on recruitment and diversity initiatives. Through his work, he met undocumented students who were initially hesitant to talk about family or personal issues if their family was undocumented.
“Whenever I think about, for instance, when I helped students. One of my favorite things was working with their parents, so I saw my parents in them, too. I see my parents’ narrative and story in them, too. I deeply, deeply relate. I put myself in their own shoes and what they are feeling and experiencing,” Nava said.
At the New American Voices meeting, Nayelli Rico Lopez recalled how Nava helped her navigate through the academic and scholarship process when she was a student at Nevada State. Now she’s helping undocumented students through The Intersection at UNLV.
“He’s a very caring, empathetic person. He cared about our students,” Lopez said. “It’s a full circle moment to do this work next to him.”
A welcoming state to Nava means respecting and celebrating immigrants’ heritage and valuing the culture and ideas they bring with them.
“Immigrants are like everyone else. They have the same needs and emotions and same desires to be a part of the city, state, country,” Nava said. Except, there is an added layer in that they have to take a few extra steps.”