Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Vietnamese Touch

Today I got pounded on the back by a middle-aged Vietnamese woman at a nail salon. I went with my cousins and an aunt for some female bonding and manicures. There were a string of about three different nail salons on one block, all of whom looked to be run by Vietnamese/Vietnamese American women. And this is, I have to say, a commonality in the Bay Area--nail salons run by Vietnamese people.

It's an interesting ethnic niche market--the Vietnamese nail salon. I can't quite figure out how they make any money since it was $10.00 a manicure, which included, as I alluded to above, a sound back pounding, neck rub, and full arm massage, along with the manicure. It feels as if nail salons in CA are almost synonymous with Vietnamese Americans. And yet, I do wonder if I'm stereotyping--and I don't mean to be. So I suppose it does raise the question: when does something cross the line between being a description to being a stereotype?


dance said...

when does something cross the line between being a description to being a stereotype?

Important but exceedingly difficult question. Maybe when it's reproduced? Eg, for SNL to act it out makes it a stereotype, doesn't it?

I think I followed you home from de-lurking somewhere, now occasional lurker.

Jennifer said...

I think you're right--if I were to assume every Vietnamese woman I saw worked in a nail salon I would be perpetuating a stereotype. But noting that there are several (not all) nail salons in a region of California operated by Vietnamese people does describe a particular ethnic market. I can't help but be reminded about Chinese laundries and how that myth got perpetuated. And I know the history of Chinese laundries--Chinese men weren't given opportunities of employment in the 19th and early 20th century other than those in menial fields that others didn't want to take (we can see parallels with Latino and Southeast Asian immigrants working in agriculture). But the nail salon doesn't seem to be a market similar to laundries of the 19th century of current agri-business--so I guess that's why I'm curious as to how it seems to be affiliated in many cases (and places--I can think of a couple of nail salons in MA, NY, and even NC owned by Vietnamese people) with Vietnamese immigrants.