The Daughter of a Mother Who Works in a Nail Shop

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Uyen Nguyen ’20, a Davidson student and future world changer, wrote a letter to her mom, who came to this country at age 39 and began working in a nail salon. These excerpts are from the full version that first appeared on the Her Campus at Davidson website. Read the full version here.

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Uyen with her mom and one of her brothers

It was a very busy day in my Spanish class. I was trying to make a sentence about my mom’s profession in Spanish. I said, “Mi mamá es una manicurista.” My classmate asked me, “Your mom works at a nail shop, and she wants you to go to law school. Really?” I was shaking. I mumbled, “Yes!” That’s it. To him, it was just a simple conversation. To me, that moment kept playing over and over in my head.

My mom, at the age of 39, came to this country. She couldn’t even speak one English word. She had never worked before. She married, and her only job was to raise me and my brothers.

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I usually don’t talk about my mom working at a nail shop to my classmates. I mean, who would believe me? I always dress nicely. I have the cutest outfits and a fancy backpack. I don’t tell people, but I don’t lie either. If they ask me about my mom, I will say that she works at a nail shop. I will tell them if they ask me. But, I will say it differently compared to the way that other students introduce their parents that are Davidson alums in a class’s icebreaker game. I will say it differently compared to the way that others talk about how their parents are lawyers, doctors, etc. You can see that when I talk about my mom’s profession. The confident person in me vanishes. Eventually, I change the topic of the conversation.

My mom raised me and my brothers by working 10 hours a day, bending down to clean someone’s feet. She raised me to go to college. She raised me to go to Davidson College, a college where children of lawyers and doctors attend.

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She dreams of a better life. She can’t speak English but that doesn’t mean the idea of the American Dream is unfamiliar to her. That dream doesn’t require you to speak English. That dream belongs to anyone despite their languages, cultures, races, sexual orientations, genders, and religions. She works at that nail shop.

Later, I learned from one of my mom’ coworkers; my mom cried on her first day of work.

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I am broken into pieces. My past is foreign to me now.

Mom, I am so sorry. I am sorry to discredit your hard works. I am so sorry for my embarrassment and silence in front of my friends when I told them that you work a nail shop. What you do every day is beautiful. You are talented, skilled, and specialized in what you do. You make a positive contribution to this society. You raised me. You taught me to become a better person.

You are an artist to me. You make this world becomes a more beautiful place. You love what you do. You inspire me. You give me a way out.

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That nail shop did give me a lot of things. It gave me food, clothes, and a safe place to live. It’s a place that my mom can earn money through her talent. That nail shop is the foundation of who I am. No matter how successful and educated I am, without that nail shop, I would not have the opportunity to pursue my dreams.

My name is Uyen Nguyen. I am a daughter of my mother who works at a nail shop. I am also a Davidson student, a future lawyer and a future world changer.

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Uyen Nguyen

Uyen Nguyen '20 is a Davidson student who plans to become a lawyer and make a meaningful difference in our world.

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