I've wondered sometimes why almost all the nail salons I pass on local streets appear to be owned and/or staffed and/or run by Vietnamese. I've just learned how that came about. Apparently a US actress, Tippi Hedren, was behind it all.
Forty years ago, the Hollywood actor traveled to Hope Village, a Vietnamese refugee camp near Sacramento, California, to meet with a group of women who had recently fled the takeover of South Vietnam by the armed forces of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Hedren was aware of the difficulties the refugees had faced and had been trying before her visit to think of a skill or trade she could help the women learn so they could support themselves in their adopted country. When she met with the group, she was surprised to find they were enamored with her manicure.
“We were trying to find vocations for them. I brought in seamstresses and typists—any way for them to learn something,” she told the BBC. “And they loved my fingernails.”
Thuan Le was there for the lightbulb moment. “A group of us were standing close to her and saw that her nails were so beautiful,” she recalled to TakePart. “We talked to each other and said they looked so pretty. I looked in [Hedren’s] eyes and knew she was thinking something. She said, ‘Ah, maybe you can learn nails.’ And we looked at each other and she said, ‘Yes, manicures!’ ”
Hedren flew in her own beautician and enlisted a local beauty school to teach 20 of the women how to execute the perfect manicure. Many of these women later settled in Southern California, where they soon were offering manicure services at a lower price than the existing competition. This quickly and dramatically changed the face of the industry in the region. Manicures and pedicures that cost upwards of $50 in luxury salons can cost 30 to 50 percent less at a Vietnamese American–owned salon, according to trade publication Nails. Today, the nail industry is worth $8 billion, and 80 percent of nail technicians in Southern California are Vietnamese (51 percent across the U.S.). Many of them are direct descendants of the 20 women Hedren met with that fateful day in Sacramento, according to the BBC.
There's more at the link. Interesting reading, particularly how reliant the Vietnamese economy has become on funds remitted to family members by their relatives overseas. Every time you have your nails done, you may be part of the process.
I remember reading about the Vietnamese 'boat people', refugees trying to escape Communism after the fall of South Vietnam. I'd never have thought that one of the consequences was a virtual lock on the nail salon business in the USA by their descendants.