How Tippi Hedren helped Vietnamese immigrants find opportunity in the nail salon industry
Ever wonder why there are so many Vietnamese working in salons all over the United States? The answer may surprise you. Almost 50 years ago, an up-and-coming actress named Tippi Hedren (best known for playing the lead role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) was transitioning from being an actress to working for a non-profit.
Hedren’s life as an actress was short-lived (she later accused Hitchcock of sexually assaulting her and ruining her career in a memoir). Afterward, she worked as an international relief coordinator for the Food for the Hungry.
Among her assignments was how to help refugees from Vietnam get jobs. This was after the Fall of Saigon (during the US’s war with Vietnam). Refugees escaping the war stayed in Camp Hope in Sacramento. Her main challenge was they didn’t have skills and training that were in demand in the job market of the day.
Enter her personal manicurist, Dusty Coots Butera, who worked at The Nail Patch, a pioneer in nail-only service in California.
A core group of 20 Vietnamese women were personally trained by Butera under the watchful eye of Hedren. Many of these original 20 went on to open their own salons, hiring their families and friends also seeking safety in the United States.
Today, the nail salon industry is estimated to be worth $8.53 billion. More than half of the workers in the industry are Vietnamese. In California alone, eight in ten of nail salon staff are of Vietnamese heritage.
Ask them, and they would probably trace their genes back to the Vietnamese refugees who were living at Camp Hope. If not, their parents or grandparents were probably trained by the core group of 20 women.
It all goes back to Tippi Hedren, her scuttled career, the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of a controlling director, and ultimately, her tenacity and refusal to quit.