COVID-19 Impact: Dung’s Story

Dung Nguyen, a Fullerton, CA, resident who works as program and outreach coordinator for the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, recently assisted an elder seeking unemployment. Recognizing that his situation is not unique, Dung acknowledges the necessary work for Southeast Asian American advocates to identify others in need.

“His wife passed away 10 years ago,” Dung said. “He doesn’t have any children, any grandchild, any family, and he didn’t know how to access unemployment. So, I helped him, and he was able to get it, and he was just so happy. There are lot of stories like that, of people like him out there who don’t know where to go. And it’s important that we are the ones to find them. They can’t just come to us.”

The collaborative, which was founded in 2005, is a statewide grassroots organization that addresses health, environmental, reproductive justice, and other social issues faced by the low-income, predominantly Vietnamese and female immigrant refugee workforce in California. Its work uses a multitude approach that blends community organizing, grassroots policy advocacy, and community-based research to build power within the nail salon community, to develop solutions that will benefit the nail salon workforce, their families, and California-based immigrant- and refugee-owned small businesses.

According to the collaborative, nearly 70% of California’s 440,000 manicurists are part of the Vietnamese community, many of whom are without access to paid sick leave, health care, or job security. Not far from where Dung lives in Orange County is Little Saigon, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. According to Dung, she has heard reports that small business owners will not be able to reopen once the pandemic is over, with many dealing with harassment from landlords to make rent despite the moratorium on rent and evictions. “They’re at a point now to where this has gone on a really long time, and they just have all this debt from rent, piled up on top of other bills that they haven’t paid,” Dung said. “They also feel like the information isn’t readily available, and it’s confusing. As a result, our work since the stay-at-home order has shifted to providing direct services.”

Within the AAPI and nail salon communities, many people have expressed a call to do something for their fellow community members, Dung said, adding that the collaborative is considering getting involved in an advocacy campaign to call for stricter rent protections. Groups like Nailing It for America organized donation drives nationwide, including in Orange County’s Little Saigon, that collected more than for 1.2 million medical-grade masks, gloves and other PPEs to distribute to healthcare workers.

“The nail salon community is going through such a difficult time right now. It’s unprecedented. They’ve never gone through this before,” she continued. “But still, they’ve expressed that: ‘We’re survivors. We’re resilient and when we are able to reopen, we want to do it in a healthy and safe manner.’ There is still that sense of hope. I’ve seen my local community really come together, where people are banding together, donating, and being very giving of others in need when they too are in need themselves.”