February 20, 2005
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From: Mitchell Young [email him]
Bryanna Bevens' article on manicurists got me to thinking. The proliferation of the nail salon is almost perfectly emblematic of the economic and social consequences of immigration.
First, the cheap manicure seems to me to have destroyed one of those female bonding moments, known as "doing our nails." I remember my older sisters getting together with friends to engage in this ritual. It made the house stink, but hey, they seemed to be having fun while doing it.
Sure, women still make dates to get their nails done, but somehow I don't think the public space and noise of a nail salon is conducive to the kind of intimate atmosphere that the home-grown institution had. Mom and daughter doing their nails at the kitchen table seems to me a much nicer thing than mom and daughter driving down to the strip mall to get processed in a nail shop.
Of course, on the books, the commodification of the manicure will raise GDP and taxes (assuming laws are followed). But the intangible—though real, I think, benefits—of the female bonding thing decline proportionately. And does having an army of manicurists brought into the country make up for the increased stress on public goods like roads, schools, etc.?
It is also unfortunate that working class American women (mostly) most certainly have had a once potential source of money dry up.
Yes, there are more nail salons now, thus more employment in the industry. But that employment seems to be almost exclusively immigrant, with immigrant owners hiring their own. I doubt an American (not of the owner's ethnicity) could get a job at an immigrant-run nail salon now—even if they were willing to work for extremely low wages.
What is really piquantly sad (and a bit creepy) about this is that Bevens' piece appeared on your site on the same day that the icon of the American manicurist, Palmolive's 'Madge', passed away.
Somehow that just seemed perfect—and perfectly depressing.