Skip to main content

Search the Special Collections and Archives Portal

Transcript of interview with Fermin De Leon by Generoso E. Sayon, March 15, 1981







On March 15, 1981, Generoso E. Sayon interviewed his adoptive father, Fermin De Leon (born July 8, 1899 in the Philippines) at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. This interview covers the Filipino experience in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the 1950s. During this interview, De Leon discusses being a veteran, who served in World War II. De Leon also recalls that most of the Filipinos living in Las Vegas worked as kitchen help in the hotels on the Strip.

Digital ID



Fermin De Leon oral history interview, 1981 March 15. OH-00379. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


This material is made available to facilitate private study, scholarship, or research. It may be protected by copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity rights, or other interests not owned by UNLV. Users are responsible for determining whether permissions are necessary from rights owners for any intended use and for obtaining all required permissions. Acknowledgement of the UNLV University Libraries is requested. For more information, please see the UNLV Special Collections policies on reproduction and use ( or contact us at

Standardized Rights Statement





UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon i An Interview with Fermin De Leon An Oral History Conducted by Generoso E. Sayon Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017 UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon iv Abstract On March 15, 1981, Generoso E. Sayon interviewed his adoptive father, Fermin De Leon (born July 8, 1899 in the Philippines) at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. This interview covers the Filipino experience in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the 1950s. During this interview, De Leon discusses being a veteran, who served in World War II. De Leon also recalls that most of the Filipinos living in Las Vegas worked as kitchen help in the hotels on the Strip. UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 1 Okay. Narrator: Mr. Fermin De Leon. Interviewer: Generoso Sayon. Oh. How old are you, Mr. De Leon? Well, I’m pretty old. I’m about eighty-one years old. How long have you lived here in Las Vegas? I’ve been here now about—thirty long years. Thirty long years? Jesus. Yes. It’s ah, long, long years. It was a time when Las Vegas was still a growing, small village. It was a, it just had a few, population, and I watched the town grow. Oh, you’re—and for a Filipino how, I mean, how many Filipinos when you went here? Well, I don’t know, for, the exact number, but it should be about eight or ten. It was just very few then. Ten Filipinos? Yes. So do you know, I mean, are some of them still living, today? Oh, yes. Some of them are still living. They stick around. You know when Filipinos come over here, as a rule, they—they stick around. Once they step on the Las Vegas sands, they can’t get out anymore. Ah, that’s good. So what kind of job, or what kind of job, what type of job did they—I mean, Filipinos, take? Well, there are so many kinds of jobs; odd jobs, of course, like cooking and bus-boying and all kinds of kitchen work. Oh. Do they, I mean, were some of your friends working in the gambling places, like craps, and things? UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 2 No. Not that I know of, but was mostly in the kitchen. So maybe like, Filipinos then were treated like second-class citizens? Well, not quite. Because after the war— There were no— It was the time when a lot of improvement took place, and so it’s not very visible now, like it used to be. There’s not really a discrimination. No. No more. Against Filipino. It’s not very visible. Oh. So what was your first job when you— My first job was in a kitchen, doing salad works. Where’s this? That was in Flamingo. Flamingo Hotel? Yes. Yes. Now it’s the Flamingo Hilton. Yes. Ah, how ‘bout, do you have, I mean, what, did you have a, what kind of place were you living in, in that time, and did you live in apartment, or? Oh, yes. I live in a studio apartment. Oh. Yes. UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 3 With other Filipinos or? Yes, with another guy. Oh. At that time rent was pretty cheap. So— And for a few dollars you had a nice little apartment. Oh. So where’s this now? I mean where was it? Where do you— Oh. It was Downtown. Downtown? Yes. You mean—can you tell us where, exactly where, Downtown? Yes. And—in what street? Oh. It was in—it was then Second Street. Second Street? Now it has changed to Center. Yes. Casino Center. Casino Center. And do they, were there Filipino girls, that you knew? No. Not really? No. There were very few. No, there was not any that I know of. Really? UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 4 Uh-huh. So that’s why you didn’t get married until like you were— Yes, yes. Sixty or so? That’s right. Instead of—how ‘bout, do, ah, is it easy for you to, for Filipinos to find a job? Oh, yes. It was, it was no ask to find, to get a job, as long as you’re a member of the union, why all you have to do is to go to the union and they give you a job. Ah nice. In those times there was so many job openings. That wasn’t no problem. So Las Vegas was still growing? Yes. And Filipinos blended in with other races then? Mm. So does Filipinos have clubs that they go to in the—after work? Well, at that time, in the early days, there was no really a formal club. But we usually gather in some houses and have something to eat and— Oh. Hear some music and have fun. I mean, but about Filipino food, you know. Yes. They had Filipino food. So you—so you really, ah, I mean, use some of the cultures from the, Philippines cultures, you brought here in Las Vegas and share it with other Filipinos there or what? Or how did UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 5 you—how did you, did you party, you know like—were you close, like with, I mean, you, were you close with them like brothers? Cause you’re the only—? Yes, yes. We were very close. I agree. We were very close. We usually all play ping pong and tennis and— Oh. Some little sports. So at that time what was it like, how old were the Filipinos that came here, probably in their forties, maybe thirties, I mean? No. They were younger then. Some of them are younger? Yes. Around thirty, you know. Maybe not too young. Oh. But not too old, either. So what kind of special events were, you know, Filipinos join at that time? Did they have—go to a—you know? Well, we usually—well, we usually went to the clubs and play a little roulette or play some blackjack and other kind of games. But as a rule, it’s only for pleasure that they did this playing. So how long did you work for—when you, at that time you were working eight hours and—eight hours a day? Well, it was, oh, yes, yes, it was eight hours then. Yes. But we only had one day off at that time. How much were you paid? We were paid about at $20.00 a day. UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 6 Oh, $20.00 a day. How ‘bout, ah, did, so you—in your own opinion, do you think you’re the oldest Filipino living, I mean? No. There are some older ones than I am but they’re both retired now. They’re not working anymore. Oh. You’re still working? Yes. At age 81? I’m still working. I see. What? Oh. In types of—Mr. De Leon, why you decided to come to Las Vegas? Well, I decided to come over here because of the better opportunities for work that you have here than where I was before. Where’s—where’s this? In Los Angeles? In Los—that was in Los Angeles. Oh. But when you came here you—did you find the opportunities that you were looking for? Yes. I got a job right away. You did? The very day I came over here, I went to the union and presto! I got a job. All right. So—okay. But—where did you learn to be a chef? Oh. I just learn it by experience. Experience? UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 7 But nobody taught me. I just picked it up. And you were a chef at Flamingo Hilton, I mean, Flamingo Hotel, at that time? It’s not—in a way, not really a chef. No, I just, ah, they call it a pantry job. A pantry job? Yes. Oh. But during your day off, or whatever you call it, what do you do? I mean, besides going to your friends and, you know? Well, usually I, went out for a ride, go to the lake and stay there for a while and feed the fish that are abundant over there. They like popcorn and so we bought some popcorn and we feed the fish. Mm. But you see—you’ve seen Las Vegas grow then from a small village to a big city now? Oh yes. I mean— I had witnessed the growth of this city. At the beginning it was just ah, oh a few—a few people here. There were not so many houses then, and even the streets were not paved at that time. Lots of the streets were not paved at that time. So, but for a Filipino, what do you think is the role, that, you know, that they did in Las Vegas, you know, they did—they participated in something, or they, were they involved in like in, in politics or whatever, at that time? We just talked politics. Really. But, well, each one to his own, I guess. And now if there was any election then they just had voted by the way they wanted to vote. UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 8 Oh. So, but, how did Filipinos, or you, find Las Vegas, because the Philippines is a—it’s a different place than Las Vegas because of the weather. The weather in the Philippines is humid. Well, there— And Las Vegas is dry and hot. Well, for me the weather didn’t bother at all. It was okay. It was just too cold. Too cold? The heat didn’t bother me too much. But the cold was really bad. But the first impression, you were, as you look at Las Vegas, it was like a desert, right? Oh, yes, there was no houses then. Right. Well, there are a lot of shopping centers now, before it was just a plain desert. Where nothing grows but cactus and wildflowers. But it then, I mean, it didn’t change your mind to go back to Los Angeles? No. When you saw Las Vegas was like a desert area and— No. I learned to like Las Vegas. Because of the many different places for you to go. You can go to the lake, you can go to the mountain and you can—if you have a desire to play in the tables, you can do so. How ‘bout—what attracted you to Las Vegas, really, like what was your first impression? Were you—? Well, I was, the lounge shows were very nice, and I enjoyed watching those people there, and hearing their music, and at that time they usually have cowboy entertainers. UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 9 Oh. About 1950s? Yes. How ‘bout, were you a veteran? Oh, yes. I’m a veteran. What war did you—? The Second World War The Second World War? Oh. So that was in 1940s? Yes. And after that you came here? Yes. But—how ‘bout to other Filipinos, did, how, I mean, how did you find them? Did they take, did you find it hard, I mean, difficult, or, it seems like, when you moved? No. Everybody was pretty happy in those days. They were all working in the kind of job that they’re accustom to, and so therefore they were satisfied. About the—other races, do they, about other people, like, the white people were they, I mean, were you treated the same as others? Oh, yes. Oh. Yes, there was no discrimination, anymore. Hardly. Okay. So you really, I mean Filipinos really are like— Yes. We were treated equal. How ‘bout, did, what were your accomplishments? UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 10 Mm. My accomplishments? Well, there’s really not much to say, except that, well, we had the cactus in the contest of food, and at one time I won first prize. Oh, yes. That was a contest of all the hotels in Las Vegas. When you were working, oh. Mr. De Leon—Mr. De Leon, you talk about your friends. Were you out, were you close to other people besides Filipinos, or? Well, we tried to be very friendly, yes, and most Filipinos are really helpful to one another. In case somebody went broke; one was always willing to lend something. So this is like a tradition, like a Filipino tradition, a culture that of helping one another like brothers? Yes. Yes. Well, you help one another. So you, like you brought it here in Las Vegas. Mm. How ‘bout, you have any special friends that you remember when you came here, you know who was your first friends, you know, like? Yes. When you arrived? Yes. I have a friend and we were like brothers, because his money was my money and my money was his money. We shared. Oh, yes. You really shared. Oh. So what happened to him now? He’s still alive? Well, no. He passed away already. That was about five years ago. Oh. So after you moved to Las Vegas did you come back, I mean did you come back to Los Angeles? Or you find—found? UNLV University Libraries Fermin De Leon 11 Once in a while I go to Los Angeles, just, on a day off, take one day off, you know, and I go down there, and come back the next day, to Las Vegas. This is a short interview, because thirty years ago, there were few Filipinos living in Las Vegas. Mr. Fermin De Leon said that there was not much things to do at that time. But according to him, most Filipinos were happy living in Las Vegas. (Tape ends)