Anti-Asian Hate in the Professional Nail Industry [A Conversation]

NAILPRO has an open conversation with two of their Asian American advisory board members about anti-Asian hate and how to support nail professionals.

Asian Hate Rally
Courtesy of Sang Cheng from Dreamstime

It is hard to believe we are halfway into 2021. It is not hard to believe, however, that amid the current social and political climates there is still more work to be done. Although we are no longer celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it is prudent to discuss Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals in the nail industry and the violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the last year.

A 2018 University of California Los Angeles Labor Center study reports that 76% of nail salon workers in the labor force are Asian. Of those polled, 81% are female, and 79% are foreign-born. This report focuses on workers who provide manicures and pedicures in nail salons.

Now let us examine the violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Stop AAPI Hate National Report from STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination amid the pandemic, revealed that the STOP AAPI Hate reporting center received nearly 6,603 incident reports from March 19, 2020, through March 31, 2021. This represents only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that occur, as many hate crimes go unreported. In an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, the study analyzes police department statistics: While hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities—including New York City, Los Angeles, San Jose and Seattle—decreased overall by 7%, anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 149%.

Although change will not happen overnight, all small steps help toward stopping anti-Asian hate. I caught up with two NAILPRO advisory board members, Amy Ling Lin, owner of sundays salon in New York City, and Vu Nguyen, a nail technician for 20 years and dean of education of Gelish, to open up the conversation about anti-Asian hate.

Read on to gain their insight and tips on how to help Asian American and Pacific Islander nail professionals feel safe and how the nail industry can support our fellow Asian American and Pacific Islander colleagues.

NAILPRO: As an Asian nail tech/salon owner, how does the recent violence against Asian Americans make you feel?

Amy Ling Lin (AL): “It’s definitely escalated in recent situations. I think from the beginning of the pandemic, we already experienced these incidents. People would be like, ‘Would you mind switching nail specialists? I want someone non-Asian.’ So, we report situations like this in the salon. I never personally experience it because I’m the salon owner. But, for nail specialists—I hear about it from our managers—it makes me feel sad. There’s a lack of communication. I feel like I want to protect the specialists because I know it doesn’t make them feel good.”

As a result, Lin holds meetings and training sessions with her staff and communicates with their clients. After hearing that a client mentioned the “China virus,” Lin explains to their clients how if one of her nail specialists goes to China and comes back, she requires them to quarantine for three weeks and test negative before turning to work.

“There is a small number of individual clients who feel uncomfortable. I think it’s due to the lack of information. I try to be understanding of their beliefs, and there’s nothing we can do besides switch to someone who’s non-Asian. I think it’s hard to argue with someone in the spa. We normally just choose afterward to talk to them or to send an email and communicate through that [to] provide more information or articles or evidence of one of our specialists who quarantined and received a negative COVID test. [We] try to be more understanding from their point of view. We hope [clients] can be understanding about our point of view as well because our specialists wonder what they’ve done wrong.”

Lin aims to make everyone feel comfortable with each other and wants to make sure her nail specialists feel like they can talk to their managers and feel safe. This includes allowing the option of carrying pepper spray, which she does not believe will be needed, but “We just want people to be safe. We close half an hour early and encourage our specialists to go home together. There are certain things we can do to naturally make [nail specialists] feel safe and say, ‘I feel OK.’ I know how stressful it can be.”

Vu Nguyen (VN): “It makes me sad that America would treat Asian Americans this way. There’s been a lot of bad—not even bad—just misleading press out there that is political, in my opinion. It is unnecessary hate. We can’t hate at times like this, especially when we’re in a pandemic when we should do the right thing. The right thing is very confusing for some people at this time. Some people feel their hate is the right thing, and it is being a patriot, but I don’t feel that way.

“There’s a stigma and stereotype about Asian Americans that they’ll take a beating and be quiet about it…For most Asians, they want to do the right thing and be quiet, raise their family. They don’t want to bother people.”

NAILPRO: Do you think our industry is doing enough to protect our own?

VN: “We do need to step up and show the community that we are trying to protect our own and our people as well as our customers. The violence is unpredictable. We can’t hide who we are. When someone sees you, someone will identify you as Asian. I can’t wear a mask that covers my whole face. I would just say keep an open eye out. Be aware. A lot of us have parents and elderly who are being abused and feeling the violence…I would say the best way to protect ourselves is to have mace, pepper spray and some sort of self-protection, and keep an open eye.”

Lin says she is in a group chat with 500 Chinese salon owners and wishes that there were step-by-step solutions or scenarios for Asian nail technicians and salon owners to deal with situations like this. She describes how everyone reacts differently and talks about how the CDC came out with the 14-day quarantine and provides a list of action items when reacting to COVID-19. “[Nail technicians and salon owners need to] know you have the right to refuse service if they do not feel comfortable. I feel like salon owners aren't aware of this, just by looking at the group chat.”

NAILPRO: Do you think there is a hesitancy for Asian nail techs and owners to report threats?

VN: “Absolutely. The Asian community doesn’t want to involve the police…My family has always been a law-abiding family, and we want to take care of things quietly and not make a big deal about it…so I don’t think salons are going to rush to the police. They’re going to want to handle it on their own. For salons, including surveillance and having evidence of everything—if something were to happen—is important.

“I feel like the hesitancy has a lot to do with the distrust between the police and the Asian community. Asians feel like the police aren’t protecting them. When crimes are reported, nothing ever came out of it or was followed up with, so why try again?”

AL: “Yes, my parents, for instance, try to avoid interactions with the police or hospital…It’s not always part of the culture. I’ve had a few interactions where I’ve called, and I saw that they’ve come to help me, which gave me a lot of confidence. But if I didn’t feel a positive experience or there was a language barrier and I didn’t receive a positive experience like my parents didn’t, it would create even more barriers for [Asians] to report because they’ll feel like ‘what am I going to get from asking for help? Or if I do ask for help, am I going to get into trouble?’ Even from the group chat, they feel like they won’t receive the same type of support as locals do, being immigrants with English not being their first language. English isn’t my first language either, there’s definitely hesitance.

A survey by AAPI Data, a policy and research nonprofit group, examined responses from more than 16,000 people of all major races at the end of March 2021. In 2020, 12% of Asian Americans and 10% of Pacific Islanders experienced hate incidents, while the national average was 8%. When asked how comfortable they would be reporting a hate crime to law enforcement authorities, 30% of Asian Americans and 36% of Pacific Islanders responded that they were “very comfortable.” But, other groups, like Black and Latino Americans, reported 45% and 42% respectively, while white respondents had the highest percentage of being comfortable with reporting to law enforcement: 54%.

NAILPRO: How can we change this hesitancy?

AL: “I always receive NAILPRO magazine. [If people were to talk about their personal stories with the police]—when we see other people do that, it gives examples of courage for people to do the same. ‘Hey, this is the situation, this is what happened, and this is how we did it. It was successful, and people were there to help us.’ So, [success stories] would give people more courage. Or maybe [start] a support group or phone line where people can call or send emails to where they can ask for help. I think in the Chinese community, they at least try to [offer] phone lines in New York.”

VN: “The police need to be involved in the Asian community and show support…In San Jose and Santa Ana, there’s a huge Asian community there. When there are parades there, maybe law enforcement should be a part of that and show that they’re doing something.”

NAILPRO: With the increasing Asian hate crimes, all while trying to manage during the pandemic, what have you been doing differently in your salon?

VN: “I’m not out there in the public, so I’m pretty much [in my studio]. But if I did have a salon, it would be very different. I would want my techs and managers to be prepared…I would want them to report any crimes. I would want them to reach out to the police and make any calls if anything were to happen. I would also want them to carry some sort of protection.”

AL: “We have a wellness studio. We focus on customer service. We’ve noticed after the pandemic that people are under a lot of stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s directly related to this or not. There are clients who cause issues in the studio or yell at the specialists. We’ve done training on how to repeat words, such as ‘Please don’t raise your voice; please don’t raise your voice.’ We don’t want to engage in an argument because it can escalate the situation and make it worse…We’ve told managers if we’re unable to do a client’s service, we’ll kindly let the client know that if we didn’t meet your expectations, we’ll happily refer you to other salons.

“We are implementing a self-check-in because of a lot of pressure on the specialists. Those [check-ins] get reported to us. So, I try to be very understanding because we’re in a pandemic, and everyone is under a lot of stress. The nail salon is the one place [clients] may come in to relieve their stress, and the innocent nail specialist is the one who takes that.”

NAILPRO: How does this affect mental health?

AL: “[We tell nail specialists to] go to the bathroom, and before that, say, ‘Sorry, would you mind if I took a few seconds?’ to take some time to breathe. We have managers who are very good at [encouraging] this [to] block that negative energy. I previously worked in a salon and felt I needed a break in between. So, I encourage specialists to take a break and go outside, because you feel differently afterward.”

VN: “You have to be able to laugh about things, even if it’s not funny. You can’t be completely serious about everything where it ruins your approach to life. Humor is definitely something that helps.” He admits, however, “Trying to trick yourself out of a mental space is tough. [It’s easy to] talk yourself down, spiral downward and find yourself in a low spot. So, being able to spot when you start doubting yourself or putting yourself down, and stopping that right away—that’s the key to not diving into it deeply.”

How To Support Yourself and Your Fellow Asian American and Pacific Islander Professionals

AL: “It’s very important to speak up, and let your voice be heard. It’s important to see different representation…Let others know it’s OK to speak up and to see a different career path. You can be in a magazine! People need to see that…like in the salon…we have a Japanese nail specialist who says, ‘This is my career choice. It’s not because of a lack of choice [that I] become a nail specialist.’ So, I want the client to know about this. I hope people can show more respect to people working in the salon because it’s very artistic work…and the client will [understand and] say, ‘Oh, this is Mary who works in the nail salon. Her favorite food is sushi.’ It just makes it more humanizedinstead of my ‘salon lady,' which I don’t like to hear. I have a name. That’s why every person in the salon has a name tag so our clients can refer to us by our names. It brings everyone closer together.”

Lin and her team do a profile on each of their specialists and want to continue doing so.

“Hopefully, people can work together and not compete against each other because the market is big. So, we should support each other.”

VN: “Be positive. Never lose that positive side. Always think positive. Don’t feel like you’re a victim. I don’t think feeling like a victim helps you overcome any of those negatives. You have to rise above that. Sometimes when people watch the news—it does affect us [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders]—but you cannot feel that [negativity] all the time.

“You kind of feel helpless, but as long as we stay positive and stay strong and voice our feelings—just being a voice out there—if we had someone to be a voice for us, that would be huge, too. People who are not Asian need to step up and be heroes.

“I’ve traveled around the world and gotten to see different cultures. There’s beauty in everyone. If you can find the beauty in a person, it’s awesome. There’s even beauty in those who don’t like you. If you can find that, that’s great. [Those people who don’t like us] don’t know us. But, I say if you took the time to get to know us, you’d love us—not just like us [and our culture], but love us.”

How To Report an Anti-Asian Hate Crime

Stop AAPI Hate and Stand Against Hatred provide forms for you to report an anti-Asian hate crime. Stop APPI Hate lists that their form takes seven minutes to fill out, which you can do on your behalf or someone else’s. Both organizations offer a few languages for the form, and adding in your personal information is optional.

Find more resources for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community at bmi.com and hateisavirus.org.


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