Overcoming Adversity as Vietnamese Americans in Greeley, Colorado

Editor's Note: In the story below, Kimaleen T. writes about her parents' experience emigrating from Vietnam and continuing their journey as entrepreneurs in West Greeley.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, my parents Nick and Cindy each fled the Vietnam War by boat. It was a scary time filled with uncertainty and fear, and they didn't know if they would even make it; they just knew they needed to leave for a new life and better opportunities. Both ended up in a refugee camp in Malaysia, where they met. My dad spoke a small amount of English then, so when representatives came from the United States to volunteer, he served as an English translator in the camp.

Both eventually made it to North America with dreams of building new lives. My dad initially settled in Canada, while my mom began her journey in Buffalo. They later married and moved to Orange County, California, where they first entered the world of nail care, first providing manicures and pedicures to customers and eventually opening up their own nail salon there.

Many people don't know the history of how nail salons became to be a part of Vietnamese culture. Around the same time my parents fled the region, the actress Tippi Hedren was doing humanitarian work to resettle a group of female Vietnamese refugees. She took her personal manicurist with her on her visit, and her manicurist trained the women in how to perform nailcare. Once Vietnamese immigrants began to settle in the U.S., they often opened salons because that was the skill they had to share. My mother, too, started her career in nails by requesting a small corner inside an American hair salon in Newport Beach to provide nail services. My dad even learned how to do nails, a skill he often faced prejudice for.

In 2011, we moved from Orange County, California, to Greeley, Colorado. My dad really did his research. He saw an opportunity for growth and success in a developing town with an untapped market, and they ventured into the nail salon space in Greeley. I didn't know anything about Colorado at the time! It was a culture shock for our entire family, but Greeley (and Colorado as a whole) has really grown so much since we've moved here and has continued to grow more diversely.

What's been special about living and working in Greeley is the genuine support received from fellow community members. The residents of Greeley have embraced our family, appreciating the hard work and dedication we put into our business. The tight-knit nature of the community has allowed us to form lasting relationships beyond salon doors. It has also provided opportunities for fellow Vietnamese people in the community to find employment.

But starting a family business is no easy task; my parents have encountered numerous challenges.

Both language and cultural barriers posed as initial obstacles while navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship. Furthermore, establishing a customer base from scratch was hard. However, they gradually built a loyal clientele through consistent hard work, dedication to customer service, and word-of-mouth referrals. Hiring and maintaining employees in the nail salon industry can also be a significant challenge. It's a reality that many salon owners, including my parents, have faced throughout their journey as small business owners. Nail salon work can be physically demanding and mentally exhausting. Technicians often have to spend long hours to maintain a high level of precision.

Despite the challenges, my parents have always prioritized creating a supportive and inclusive environment and community. By fostering a positive workplace culture and valuing their employees' contributions, they aim to overcome the obstacles and retain dedicated team members who share their passion for providing exceptional services to clients. The salon embraces the spirit of hospitality deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture, both for employees and for our customers. And my parents embrace that spirit for their children. There is a saying in immigrant families that the first generation survives so that the second can thrive. My parents survived. Now, I'm able to thrive.

My family's journey showcases the resilience immigrants experience in their pursuit of a brighter future. Nick and Cindy pursued the American Dream, building their business from scratch and preserving Vietnamese culture through their salon. Their story is a testament to the enduring spirit of the AAPI (Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander) community and serves as a reminder of the possibilities that come from seizing opportunities and overcoming adversity.

The Vietnamese nail industry encompasses far more than just nails, beauty, and art. It has played a crucial role in providing for our families, communities, and future generations to come. From a medical aspect, the nail industry even serves to provide nail health services through manicures and pedicures and deserves the utmost respect. Vietnamese artists were pioneers of their time, and it is important to show support for local nail businesses.

AAPI Heritage Month transcends the confines of a solitary month. The AAPI community is diverse and vibrant and has made significant contributions to the fabric of our city, society, and beyond. Cultural differences all bring us together at the end of the day, and at our very core, we are a unified nation shaped by and built upon the invaluable contributions of immigrants.