Written By: Di Tran

The Prominence of Nail Salons in Kentucky

The prominence of nail salons in Kentucky, predominantly owned by the Vietnamese and other Asian communities, is a reflection of a larger national trend. This trend began in the 1970s when actress Tippi Hedren introduced the art of manicures to a group of Vietnamese women in a refugee camp in California. This act of kindness sparked a passion for nail care among Vietnamese immigrants, leading to the establishment of nail salons across the United States. In Kentucky, these salons are not merely businesses but cultural hubs, where the art of nail care is practiced and passed down through generations. The presence of these salons showcases the entrepreneurial spirit and cultural heritage of the Asian community, contributing significantly to the diversity and vibrancy of the local beauty industry. This phenomenon is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of Vietnamese immigrants, who have turned a simple act of generosity into a thriving industry that dominates the nation’s beauty landscape.

Women at the Forefront

The Vietnamese community, with its 4,000+ year history, is deeply rooted in values that emphasize the importance of women and mothers. This cultural heritage is reflected in the nail salon industry in America, where many Vietnamese women, often mothers, lead businesses and contribute significantly to their communities. Their presence in the industry is not just about providing beauty services but demonstrates their resilience, leadership, and the continuation of rich cultural traditions in a new homeland.

Challenges Faced by the Asian Community

The Asian beauty community in Kentucky has faced significant challenges due to targeted actions by the Kentucky State Board of Cosmetology. These actions have led to concerns regarding fairness and equal treatment within the industry, prompting the community to advocate for changes to create a more inclusive and representative regulatory environment. This advocacy aims to ensure that all beauty professionals, regardless of their background, are treated equitably and have equal opportunities to succeed in the industry.

Legislative Milestones

The passing of Senate Bill 14 is a significant legislative milestone in Kentucky, ensuring representation for nail technicians and estheticians on the Kentucky State Board of Cosmetology. This move towards greater diversity and inclusion in the industry’s governance is further highlighted by the historic appointment of Lianna Simpson Nguyen. As the first Vietnamese– Asian woman, and nail technician school owner on the board, her appointment signals a commitment to recognizing the contributions and perspectives of a broader range of professionals in the beauty industry.

Unity and Advocacy

The collective effort led by Vietnamese and Cambodian women to advocate for Senate Bill 14 showcases the power of unity and advocacy. Their successful push for fair representation and the end of targeted actions against their community demonstrates the impact of collaborative action in achieving legislative change. This movement highlights the strength of a unified community working together for a common cause, proving that collective voices can lead to significant changes in legislation and governance.

Celebrating Derby with Hard Work and Festivity

During the Kentucky Derby weekend, Vietnamese salon owners and nail licensees work tirelessly to accommodate the surge in clientele. Despite the long hours, they also find time to celebrate this iconic event with traditional Asian dishes and premium drinks, showcasing their dedication to both their craft and their cultural traditions. The celebration includes a feast of seafood, such as lobster, shrimp, crab, and king crab legs, accompanied by fancy cognacs and Kentucky Bourbon. This blend of hard work and festivity reflects the Vietnamese community’s deep-rooted history and values, emphasizing the importance of women and mothers in their culture. As they serve Americans through their businesses, they also celebrate alongside them, embodying the spirit of being American-made and foreign-born.

The Cultural Mosaic of Kentucky Derby’s Nail Industry

In Kentucky, nail salons and nail services have become an essential part of the celebration, much like the iconic derby hats and bourbon. This trend reflects the diverse influences of the nail industry, shaped by both Black and Vietnamese communities. While Black culture has long embraced bold nail art, Vietnamese immigrants have made nail services more affordable and accessible. This blend of cultural influences has led to a nail industry that caters to a wide range of styles, becoming a staple for women attending the Kentucky Derby.