American history offers plenty of examples of enterprising immigrants who have clustered in particular lines of work-from the Chinese laundries of the 1920s to Korean-owned grocery stores and Latino workers in construction and landscaping jobs today. But, the experience of the Vietnamese in the nail industry is unique. There are Vietnamese-owned and -operated nail salons in not only every state—even Alaska but also all over Canada, England, and Australia. They have achieved both spread and dominance as a rare balance of ethnic group size, tight cohesion, and right industry conditions.

According to the leading U.S Nails magazine Vietnamese nail salons dominate over half of the $9 million industry nationwide. From 2014 to 2015, the number of storefronts experienced an increase of over 240%, expanding to over 360,000 locations across the country. Over 100,000 Americans visit them monthly, and 50% of American females are regular consumers. They have contributed a ubiquitous part of the American retail landscape as seen in the Vietnamese-owned and operated nail salons. In California, the center of the overseas Vietnamese community, the number is closer to 80 percent of all manicurists working in those salons. They have arrived here as refugees from communist rule after the fall down of the Saigon capital of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975. Vietnamese families scattered in the unlikeliest corners of America, places where they’re often the only Asian residents. A 2018 report by the UCLA Labor Center states that “nail salons are primarily owned and staffed by immigrants and refugees. Many of these laborers are Vietnamese (especially in California) or Korean (especially in New York), but they also hail from Nepali, Tibet, China and other backgrounds. Only 21% of the nation’s nail salon workers were born in the United States, and only 14% are white.

It was around this time that Hollywood actress Tippi Hedren, the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, began volunteering at a refugee camp called Hope Village outside of Sacramento. Hedren was also blessed with a heart for the less fortunate. When some of the Vietnamese women in the camp noticed Hedren’s beautiful nails, the actress decided to fly in her personal manicurist. “We were trying to find vocations for them,” Hedren told BBC magazine in 2015. She brought in seamstresses and personal manicurist, Dusty Coots—any way for them to learn something. They loved my fingernails. She rented a bus and sent them to Sacramento to go to beauty school to get their licenses and off they went. And they all passed. She loved these women so much that she wanted something good to happen for them after losing literally everything. She said some of them lost their entire family and everything they had in Vietnam: their homes; their jobs; their friends—everything was gone. They lost even their own country.

After classes with Hedren’s manicurist and a follow-up course at Citrus Beauty School in Sacramento, the initial group of 20 women went on to be the first Vietnamese manicurists to work in the beauty industry here. And a few would eventually open the first Vietnamese-owned salons in California. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

She is known as the Godmother of Vietnamese Nails Industry . If you know American film history, you can know The Birds was a huge and even timeless hit, propelling the previously unknown Hedren into fame, stardom, and wealth. In 1930, a little girl was born in Minnesota to first generation Americans. Her name was Nathalie Hedren but her dad called her Tippi. But one fateful day in 1961, legendary director Alfred Hitchcock saw her in a diet drink commercial run on NBC’s The Today Show. Something caught Hitchcock’s eye and he called Tippi in for a screen test which she assumed was for his weekly television show.

The appeal of the job back then and now remains the same—low barriers to entry, good wages, and no requirement for English. It takes them five, six months to get a license. Most manicurists enroll in courses at specialty beauty schools. These schools often teach in Vietnamese. They can pass the licensing test issued by state cosmetology boards and meet the minimum hours of instruction requirement. Most of them did research to determine which towns would be the most profitable for a job.

They worked long hours since 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., six days a week, sometimes longer in the summer when sandals and open-toed shoes usher in peak pedicure season. Even in cold states they are all times hired. Just looking into a newspaper, they can find a job with and the first number they call. Vietnamese entry into the nail business has incited a financial boon in building a climbing wealth of the top US$9 billion industry. The art of nails continues driving the spread of Vietnamese people all over the world. The phenomenon of moving to disparate towns in search of nail work and less competitive pricing is so common that it has even inspired a fixed term in the Vietnamese lexicon, Lam mong xuyen bang—“Doing nails across states.”

According to Harvard Business School professor William Kerr, the closest comparison might be Gujarati Indians and the hotel management business. Indians own roughly 40 percent of all motels in the U.S. But their dominance of the industry doesn’t extend beyond America as it does with the Vietnamese. They have actually created the market for nails and then expanded it. The low prices and convenience offered by Vietnamese nail salons has rekindled a much wider swath of the population not only wealthy women. They changed beauty standards. Wandering into your local nail salon, you come to chances to see their ancestor’s spirit of appreciation shown in a traditional prayer altar near the door and the manicurist sitting behind the emery board. The nail industry has changed fundamentally under the influence and cultural practices of Vietnamese nail professionals.


  1. Boat people: people who escape from their country in small boats to travel to another country in the hope that they will be able to live there
  2. Asylum seeker: a person who has left their home country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in another
  3. Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
  4. Émigré: a person who has left their own country in order to settle in another, typically for political reasons
  5. Escapee: a person who has escaped from somewhere, especially prison
  6. Deportee: a person who has been or is being expelled from a country
  7. Expellee: a person who is expelled especially from a native or adopted country
  8. Evacuee: a person evacuated from a place of danger to somewhere safe
  9. Returnee: a person who returns to a place, especially after a prolonged absence
  10. Expatriate: a person who lives outside their native country
  11. Repatriate: a person who is sent back to their country
  12. Emigrant: one who leaves one’s place of residence or country to live elsewhere
  13. Migrant: a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work or better living conditions
  14. Migrator: any creature that migrates
  15. Immigrant: a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country
  16. Runaway: a person who has run away, especially from their family or an institution
  17. Runagate: a fugitive or runaway. a vagabond or wanderer
  18. Stowaway: a person who secretly boards a vehicle, such as a ship, an aircraft, a train, cargo truck or bus. Sometimes, the purpose is to get from one place to another without paying for transportation
  19. Castaway: a person who has been shipwrecked and stranded in an isolated place
  20. Layabout: a person who habitually does little or no work
  21. Defector: a person who has abandoned their country or cause in favor of an opposing one
  22. Deserter: a member of the armed forces who deserts-this contrasts with unauthorized absence (UA) or absence without leave (AWOL)
  23. Absconder: someone who goes away from a place suddenly, especially in order to escape from it
  24. Fugitive: a person who has escaped from a place or is in hiding, especially to avoid arrest or persecution
  25. Peregrine: a person who is coming from another country
  26. Peripatetic: a person who is traveling from place to place, in particular working or based in various places for relatively short periods
  27. Itinerant: a person who travels from place to place
  28. Truant: a student who stays away from school without leave or explanation
  29. Renegade: a person who deserts and betrays an organization, country, or set of principles
  30. Dodger: a person who engages in cunning tricks or dishonest practices to avoid something unpleasant
  31. Fare-dodger: A person who deliberately avoids payment for public transport
  32. Lounger: a person spending their time lazily or in a relaxed way
  33. Loafer: a person who idles time away
  34. Outcast: a person who has been rejected by society or a social group
  35. Vagrant: a person without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging
  36. Vagabond: a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job.
  37. Footloose: a person who is able to travel freely and do as one pleases due to a lack of responsibilities or commitments
  38. Derelict: a person without a home, job, or property.
  39. Gypsy: a member of a people originating in South Asia and traditionally having an itinerant way of life
  40. Tinker: a person who is living in an itinerant community
  41. Rover: a person who spends their time wandering
  42. Tramp: a person who travels from place to place on foot in search of work or as a vagrant or beggar
  43. Tramper: a person who walks for long distances in rough country for recreation
  44. Drifter: a person who is continually moving from place to place, without any fixed home or job
  45. Beachcomber: a person who walks along a beach looking for valuable or interesting items
  46. Scrounger: a person who borrows from or lives off others
  47. Scavenger: a person who searches for and collects discarded items
  48. Moocher: a person who lives off others without giving anything in return
  49. Freeloader: a person who takes advantage of others’ generosity without giving anything in return
  50. Junketeer: a person who regularly goes on trips or attends functions at another’s expense, typically for supposed work purposes
  51. Schnorrer: a beggar or scrounger
  52. Hobo: a homeless person
  53. Perambulant: a person who is strolling
  54. Swagman: a person carrying a swag
  55. Mendicant: a beggar
  56. Clochard: a beggar in France
  57. Sponger: a person who lives at others’ expense
  58. Bloodsucker: a person who extorts money or otherwise lives off other people
  59. Drone: a person who does no useful work and lives off others
  60. Sluggard: a lazy person
  61. Laggard: a person who makes slow progress and falls behind others
  62. Straggler: a person in a group who becomes separated from the others, typically because of moving more slowly
  63. Slowcoach: a person who acts or moves slowly
  64. Fainéant: an idle or ineffective person
  65. Sundowner: a tramp arriving at a sheep station in the evening under the pretense of seeking work, so as to obtain food and shelter
  66. Ne’er-do-well: a person who is lazy and irresponsible
  67. Gold brick: a lazy person
  68. Goof-off: a person who is habitually lazy or does less than their fair share of work
  69. Slugabed: a lazy person who stays in bed late
  70. Bird of passage: a person who passes through or visits a place without staying for long
  71. Gadabout: a habitual pleasure-seeker
  72. Rambler: a person who walks for pleasure, especially in the countryside
  73. Wayfarer: a person who travels on foot
  74. DP: a displaced person (a person who is forced to leave their home country because of war or persecution)

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