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Couple from Vietnam find opportunity in Harvard

(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Yen Nguyen smiles as she sits in the Nailtique salon.
(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Nail technician Jason James works on a customer's nails at Nailtique.
(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Nailtique owner Mario Vu files a customer's nails.
(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Nailtique owner Mario Vu works on finishing touches on a customer's nails Wednesday in the Harvard nail salon.

HARVARD – Sitting in her new shop, the one she could never have dreamed of, Yen Nguyen's face beams when she talks about the profound impact of moving to America at age 22.

"I have to say, it's freedom," said the now 34-year-old, the words, supported with a smile, jumping out of her as if spring-loaded. "You can work. You can express yourself. You can tell people what you like and what you don't."

The land of opportunity has been exactly that for Nguyen and Mario Vu. The two are settling into their new life as business owners, four months after buying and renovating Nailtique, a six-year-old nail salon in Harvard.

Both grew up in Vietnam. Vu moved to California, about an hour outside L.A., at age 18. Nguyen came to Chicago. The two met when Vu followed his brother to Schaumburg in 1998 to help out at the nail business he was opening.

Eventually, they moved in together and had a daughter, Lilly Vu, now 4.

Eventually, working two jobs – at his brother's business in Schaumburg and as a CNC operator at a factory – grew old for Vu.

Eventually, the two were pointed toward an advertisement for Nailtique in Harvard, a couple hours from their home in Mokena.

They bought it. They renovated. Here they are.

"I don't ever think about moving back," said the soft-spoken Vu, 38, of Vietnam. "Visiting – going back home to see relatives, my family – that's about it. Over here, you have a lot of opportunity. A lot of opportunity. You have to take advantage of that."

The two say they've been welcomed with open arms in Harvard, which is what they want as much as anything. They like the opportunity to talk with people that this job affords – to learn about the culture they're more and more a part of, and to share their own.

"We hope that people come in and give us a chance to serve them," Nguyen said.

Nguyen recognizes the privilege because it is one she likely would not have had in Vietnam.

Her parents were farmers in a country where the term takes on a whole new meaning.

"Here, you say farmer and you own a hundred or a thousand acres of land and you grow vegetables," she said. "My parents are farmers, they own maybe this side of the shop."

Nguyen extends her hands straight forward and then out, cutting an imaginary line through the middle of her modest salon.

"They grow vegetables and they pick the vegetables from the garden, bring it to the flea market, sell it, and the money they get from selling the vegetables, they buy the food," she said. "That's how we survive. Something like this – it's too fancy. Too much money. I don't think I could have a business. If it's me, if I'm still there, I could only work in the factory."

Owning a business, be it back home or here, takes money and experience, Nguyen points out.

"For myself, I don't think I could," she said. "I come from a very poor family.

"And this, I could never dream of."

NailtiqueWhat: A newly renovated nail salon offering manicures, pedicures and other nail grooming services.Where: 5420 Route 14, HarvardInformation: Call 815-943-6970 or visit www.facebook.com/pages/Nailtique/116256028395949

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