Most people familiar with Tippi Hedren are Hitchcock aficionados. She first gained fame as the star of the film The Birds. If you haven't heard of her, you may have heard of her daughter...a certain Melanie Griffith. Interestingly, the group of people who know Hedren the best, however, don't idolize her for her striking good looks or acting ability. No, to a large group of Vietnamese Americans, she is revered for making the American dream come true. The fact that many, many nail salons are owned and operated by Vietnamese Americans is no secret. The Mexican American comedian Angela Johnson does a whole bit on the topic. Joking aside, however, how did this immigrant group come to totally dominate an industry? And why is an American actress credited by this immigrant group as helping them do it?
Hedren in Marnie with Sean Connery
Shortly after the fall of Saigon (modern-day Ho Chi Minh City), Hedren visited a Vietnamese refugee camp outside of Sacramento. She wanted to find something these women (many of them married to formerly high ranking South Vietnamese military officials) could do to earn a living. She noticed that all the women kept admiring her manicured nails. She immediately had her manicurist flown in to teach the women the ways of the manicure. Most manicurists today are in some way, shape, or form connected to these original group of women.
These Vietnamese refugees revolutionized the nail industry. Before they came along, most women could not afford the $50 (in 1970s dollars) it costs to get your nails done. The Vietnamese nail salons, by contrast, charged anywhere from $10 to $20. Today, over 50% of nail salons are owned by Vietnamese Americans. In California the percentage is over 75. Not bad for a group of refugees who came here with next to nothing.