Tapestries: Interwoven voices of local and global identities


Nail art is a site of cultural history in the US. This form of artistic and self expression has evolved greatly over the decades, with influences from different cultures and backgrounds, especially from Black-American and Vietnamese-American people. Growing up, it had never occurred to me why so many of my Vietnamese relatives and family friends worked as nail technicians. Turns out, over the years Vietnamese-Americans immigrants turned entrepreneurs have actually come to dominate this multi-billion dollar industry. But I had never taken my family members’ careers as nail techs seriously, and it seems that this is a popular opinion among many Americans. Jokes are often made about nail technicians, never without including ignorant “Asian” accents. Not only this, but many technicians face blatant disrespect, verbal and even physical abuse, and racism at their work or outside work. These instances of racism are a part of a larger, white-supremacist and imperialist issue of the US enacting violence onto Vietnamese bodies since the Vietnam War until today. They also essentialize Vietnamese-Americans into dehumanizing stereotypes, erasing their identity and complex history. Using nail art as a site of exploration, we can investigate more about the Vietnamese American working class experience, the history of the Vietnam War and critiques of the American Dream, the complex relationship between Vietnamese-American and Black-American communities, and finally how nail art has grown in such creative and beautiful ways.

Author Biography

Cathy (kiều my) Trương is a non-binary Vietnamese-American artist born and raised in Kansas. They are a senior American Studies major at Macalester College. And they love dancing and being an Aquarius.


This paper has been submitted as an abstract only.