A Chinese Immigrant’s Life as a Nail Tech


Four years ago, at the age of 18, Danica traveled alone from her father’s farm just outside Beijing to New York. As a boarding school student, she was used to being away from her parents. This time, in search of a job with a living wage, Danica traveled more than 6,000 miles with only her suitcase and enough money to get her through the six months of cosmetology school. Now, 22, Danica works as a nail technician at Golden Tree Spa near Union Square. A shy but bubbly young woman, she has learned English solely from her customers. She lives in Flushing, Queens with her husband two years.

Q: How did you pick New York?

A: My friend lived in New York. I came in by Los Angeles. Over there if you don’t have a car, you can’t go anywhere. But New York is much easier. We have busses and the subway.

Q: Where did you live when you first got to NYC?

A: I stayed at a family hotel. It’s a place where you can go there if somebody knows you. One day is $10. Five or six people share a room. I lived there for three months, and then I met some girls in the family hotel and together we rented an apartment. Then after that I moved in with my husband in Flushing.

Q: You’ve been married two years. How did you meet your husband?

A: On the internet. We are from the same area in China, exactly the same town, but I didn’t know him before. We spoke online for a year because he was in Texas. Then he came to New York and after three months we moved in together. After a year we got married. He does nails too. But actually we have not had a wedding party yet. We are waiting to have one in China because most of our family or friends are in there.

Q: Does he also work at Golden Tree?

A: No. We would fight!

Q: Do you think your parents will ever move to the US?

A: I don’t think so. I’ve asked them before but my dad said it’s too hard for them because of the language is different.

Q: Are all your friends in the U.S. from China?

A: Most of them are from China, except at work. When we do nails we make friends with each other and with the customers. Everyone that works here speaks Chinese except for one Spanish girl and one Korean girl. They are my work friends but not very very close best friends. My close friends don’t work here. If someone is your friend and you work together, that would make trouble.

Q: How did you find work at the Golden Tree?

A: My friend showed me a post from the owner on the internet and I just called. I’ve been working here for two years. Before, I was working in Connecticut. The owner had a car to pick us up and drop us off in Queens every day. I like Golden Tree better because my co-workers and my managers are all really nice. At the other one they were nice too, but here they are nicer.

Q: Are customers ever rude?

A: Some people are a little picky. They’ll say “I want this nail to be rounder” or “I want this nail shorter” and we file it. One time, a woman said “This is not how I want it,” so I gave her the file and said, “You do it by yourself.” Then she did it and one nail was square and one nail was round. I didn’t say anything. Another time, someone asked me to file. I was working on her nails and she said “Do you know how to do it?” When you work at a job for four or five years and someone asks you this, how does that feel? So I said, “If you trust me, just let me do it. If you don’t trust me, you can look for someone else.” But the owner didn’t like that. That wasn’t here that was in Connecticut. The customer just said “Okay you just do it.”

Q: Do customers treat you differently because you are not from the U.S?

A: If someone says something that I don’t want to hear, I just don’t say anything back and I don’t look at them. Then I just go home and forget about it. When you’ve been working for a long time, you don’t want to remember anything bad. So you get used to that and you just don’t care. If you care about it, you will be angry every day! I just remember the good things, like the nicer customers.

Q: When customers are rude, do you comment to other technicians?

A: I’ll usually say in Chinese “This customer is really mean! She doesn’t know anything. She thinks she is a professional, but she’s not!” That’s it.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: I like to go out to eat and try different restaurants. My husband and I like the Japanese restaurants because they don’t have them in China. We love the udon noodles.

Q: Have you traveled around the US?

A: One time I traveled with my husband to Los Angeles for vacation; we have friends there. I don’t really like LA because you have to drive everywhere. I like New York because I can take the subway and it’s easy. But when we were in LA, my husband was driving and we kept getting lost. We had to ask people for directions but no one could understand our English so it was really hard but also very funny.

Q: Do you think you’ll stay in the US?

A: I’m not sure yet. My husband wants to go back to China because he misses his parents. I’m pretty independent.

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