Thursday, March 22, 2007

Immigration Policy and the 21$ Pedicure

When one thinks of immigrants, the image is generally of Hispanics crossing the border into Arizona, and there is lots of grousing about their taking away jobs from Americans, a debate for another time and place. Another aspect of immigration is ignored: immigrants creating jobs that didn't previously exist. Korean women are another face of immigration and have created a niche market in nail salons. Now Vietnamese immigrant women are entering the business. As I sit for a lovely, inexpensive pedicure I wonder about the lives of the women working at Rainbow Nails. (If you live in an urban area, you could substitute your own shop. My sister's novel features Think Pink Nail Salon.)
The work attracts them because they get to sit (as oppose to stand, as in factory work), the money is good, and it does not require English skills. They have been so successful in the USA that some of the nail entrepreneurs are taking the concept back to Korea and opening American-style nail places there!
I first started getting pedicures as a vacation ritual. I enjoyed the pampering and also the free-flowing conversation with local pedicurists, hearing about their lives and the local culture.
With more time now, and the price so modest, I go locally. The pedicures are great, but the lack of common language makes the process impersonal; not much social capital builds when people cannot communicate with each other. (Beauty salons and barber shops are classic Third Places.) I worry about how these women will ever learn English. Instead of just sitting there, I wish I could give them English lesson.... I also worry about their chemical exposure day in and day out. I always bring back and reuse the little plastic flip flops and the toe gizmos they give you. I presume they throw them out. They think this is very, very odd and funny, but they are beginning to remember me: Lady-Who-Brings-Flipflops.

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