ESSEX JUNCTION — Thu Chau’s father died in 1984. She found out about his death through the Red Cross. She didn’t know him. He was once a U.S Army cook in Vietnam. Chau was born in 1968, in Binh Thuan, Vietnam. Now she owns her own business in Essex Junction.
“My mom had to change my birth certificate so nobody would know I had an American father,” Chau said. But her tall physique, fair skin and hazel eyes gave her away. “People who are half American are not treated well in Vietnam,” she said. “My mother tried to hide it but at school nobody wanted to be friends with me and they would hit me any time they wanted.”
After what seemed to be a lifetime of struggle, Chau left Vietnam in 1991 to begin a new life in America. She arrived in Burlington with her now ex-husband and 3-year-old daughter. With help from the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, a program designed to help refugees and immigrants gain independence, she learned to speak English.
Chau’s mother joined her two years later. “My mom lives with me and doesn’t want to go back.” Chau said. “In our culture we take care of our parents. It’s always family first and we are together in the same house. It’s a little bit different here.”
Chau worked for a few years at the Radisson Hotel and York Capacitor, and then she was inspired when she visited friends at the University Mall in a nail salon where they worked. “I saw what they were doing and the process got me very interested,” she said. “A woman would walk in with no nails and have new nails put on. I noticed that it changed the way she looked and felt about herself.”
Chau said she wanted to make people happier and look beautiful. She enrolled at the Vermont School of Cosmetology and earned her license.
“I worked in the mall for three years and then started my own salon,” she said. Perfect Nails by Thu is in Essex Junction and will celebrate its 10-year anniversary this October.
“In my country I didn’t have any opportunity to show how smart or how competent I am,” Chau said. “But I came here and am very happy to be given freedom and opportunities to show off who I am and to be able to have that for my smart and beautiful daughters, too.”
Chau divorced her husband four years ago and has two daughters, Khanh Nguyen, 20, and Mary Nguyen, 12. Khanh will be entering her third year at the University of Vermont this fall and is competed in the Miss Vietnam Global competition in Las Vegas July 5. Miss Vietnam Global is a beauty pageant for Vietnamese women living abroad.
Vermont has a very small Vietnamese community, Chau said. Khanh’s motivation to enter the Miss Vietnam Global Pageant was to gain attention for her Vermont community her mother said. “She wanted to get out there and let them know we are here,” Chau said.
Chau has two employees and one apprentice at her salon and said she hires people who are responsible, hard working and kind.“They have to go to school first and then I teach my workers how much I know,” she said. “If a year later they open their own salon, I am very proud.” But most move to Florida, she said; they find the weather too cold in Vermont.
Chau said she has many loyal customers and doesn’t worry about competition.
Kim Nguyen has been working for Chau for two years and speaks very little English. She said she is happy to stay working with Chau, but giggled adding if she becomes too cold she might move .
I learn from my customers all of the time ,” Chau said. “I work hard and try my best every day to see smiles when they walk out the door.”