It's a long way from the beach, but Vincent Souza feels right at home in Las Vegas.
Since moving to the valley three years ago, the Hawaii native hasn't had to go far to find reminders of home.
He discovered plenty of Hawaiian restaurants within a 10-minute drive from his home in Green Valley. He's able to buy fresh poi and other Hawaiian goods at local drugstores. And he and his wife were quickly absorbed into the tight-knit local Hawaiian community.
Much of Souza's family already lived here, part of a wave of Hawaiians who in recent years migrated to the Las Vegas Valley, also known as the "ninth island" for its popularity among Hawaiians.
"All of us were born and raised in Hawaii," he said. "Now we all live here."
The population of non-Hispanic Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders in Nevada has doubled in the past decade, from 7,769 to 15,456, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in February. Most live in Clark County, where the population went from 5,864 to 12,474.
Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up less than 1 percent of Nevada's overall population, but the population's rate of growth made it the second-fastest growing racial group behind Asians.
Hawaiians say they were drawn to Nevada for many reasons, including its lower cost of living and a service-based economy similar in many ways to Hawaii's. Many already had family connections here. Also, they couldn't gamble in Hawaii.
"I have to be honest," Souza said. "So many Hawaiian people enjoy gambling, and we have zero."
Souza, a special event and meeting planner, decided to make the move after the Hawaiian economy took a nose dive. Nevada isn't doing well, either, but the cost of living is lower.
"In Hawaii we were paying $6 for a box of cereal," he said.
Southern Nevada's affordable housing drew Shawn Santana from Maui 13 years ago, when he was about to have his first child and couldn't afford a house, he said.
In Las Vegas he could buy twice the house for half the price.
"That made me move quick," he said.
The day after he landed in Las Vegas, he was working for his father-in-law's construction company.
Hawaii's high cost of living is one of several "push factors" that have motivated Hawaiians to leave for the mainland, said Christie Batson, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Hawaii also has been suffering from high poverty rates and a downturn in tourism, she said.
Hawaiians migrate "mostly to places in the West -- California and Nevada," where they already have family and social ties, Batson said.
"There's something to be said about the sense of community Hawaiians have developed here," she said. "They seem to have a really strong cultural and social network here. There's a sense of community and Hawaiian pride and attachment to Las Vegas."
One symbol of the growing Hawaiian community is the bi-annual Pure Aloha Festival, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next month. Santana, who organizes the festival, said attendance has grown from about 2,000 people to more than 20,000.
Many young Hawaiians come to Nevada to attend UNLV, where they are eligible for out-of-state tuition discounts under the university's Western Undergraduate Exchange Scholarship program.
Tasha Fernando, a UNLV senior who is studying biology, said many of her fellow students from Hawaii take advantage of the scholarship.
Fernando is president of the Ewalu Club for Hawaiian students at UNLV. "Ewalu" -- "eight" in Hawaiian -- was named for the number of Hawaiian islands.
Club members try to raise funds in fun ways that also showcase the Hawaiian culture. On Monday, for example, they'll be selling Spam musubi on campus. The dish is essentially sushi made out of Spam instead of fish.
"We're also selling hot dog musubi," Fernando said. "Not everybody loves Spam."
Family connections brought Fernando to UNLV -- her uncle, a UNLV alumnus, lives here.
"I think the main reason most kids come here is their parents vacation here and are, like, 'You should check it out,' " she said. "It's a get-away state that still feels like home."
Souza also quickly got involved with the local Hawaiian community, and is now first vice president of the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club, a 22-year-old organization whose mission is to preserve Hawaiian culture and bring the spirit of "ohana" -- family -- from the islands to the mainland. The club offers scholarships, organizes an annual Hawaiian festival that draws thousands, and sponsors an outrigger canoeing team that trains each weekend at Lake Las Vegas and competes in California.
"If you come from Hawaii and you've paddled, this gets you close to something you have missed," said Allen Oakley, a member of the team. "It helps you stay in touch with the water."
Souza also is working to promote and preserve other aspects of the Hawaiian culture. He and his sister have opened a local hula school named Kailiha'o Hula after their grandmother, who was a renowned hula entertainer on the islands.
"The turnout has been tremendous," he said. "We have transplanted Hawaiians, second-generation Hawaiians and their parents wanting to make sure they get involved in Hawaiian culture."
Souza said teaching hula is another way to spread the "aloha spirit," which he defined as "embracing and accepting people for who they are."
It's "something you can't see, touch or smell," he said. "It means you'd give the shirt off your back for someone, even if you don't know them. The aloha spirit is everything good and friendly."
Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.