It’s where Asian American women retreat to relax amid the tensions; where seniors get their perms and remember their home country between rinses.
For many Asian Americans, Wednesday’s shooting at a Korean-owned hair salon in Dallas carried immense weight given the importance of Asian salons as community spaces — far beyond the only realm of beauty.
Authorities are looking for the shooter, who police say opened fire and injured three Korean women inside the Hair World Salon before fleeing. Although the motive is not yet known, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia told a press conference on Friday that the shooting may have been motivated by hate, after his department’s investigation concluded. indicated that three recent shootings targeting Asian-run businesses may be linked.
The tragedy destabilized local and national communities. Many say Asian American neighborhood beauty salons are intimate spaces that often serve as a respite from the discrimination that immigrant women may face in society, as well as the intense loneliness that is often ingrained in the immigrant experience. .
Community experts say the shooting and the fear it entails are meant to disrupt the peace often cultivated in Asian immigrant beauty establishments, especially for older women whose visits to these businesses are a regular part of their routine.
“When I first heard about the shooting… the trauma of it – it’s not going to be easy to get over,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of advocacy group National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. , at NBC Asian America. “These neighborhood spas and hair salons are really the places where women can find solace and solace and be together without worrying about who’s listening, who’s hearing them.”
It’s also where many of our aunts talk about their struggles in a space where people understand.
Connie Wun, AAPI Women’s Lead
Hair World Salon, in what is known as the city’s Asian shopping district, has a predominantly Korean American clientele. But parallels can be found in Asian American Diaspora immigrant neighborhoods.
Unlike most beauty salons in the United States, these establishments often cater to Asian American women, many of whom are older “aunties.” Business is often conducted in the native language of the community. Lists and flyers of other immigrant settlements, family businesses, and personal services like tutoring are posted at the front desk. Many older customers visit almost religiously, for perms, dye jobs, and general upkeep. It’s not uncommon for stylists to keep tabs on neighborhood kids.
Connie Wun, co-founder of the organization AAPI Women Lead, said these settings are often sites where customers feel pressured to conform to certain beauty standards. But the familiar culture and language, in addition to being a place with few men, make salons a unique environment for Asian immigrant women to discuss racialized sexism, harassment and violence – both at home and abroad. outside and inside the home – which they often face without having their emotions invalidated.
Stop AAPI Hate, a hate incident tracking forum, collected reports of 10,905 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from March 2020 through December 2021. Over 60% of incidents were reported by women.
“It’s also where a lot of our aunts talk about their struggles in a space where people understand,” said Wun, whose mother frequents the neighborhood Vietnamese salon. “These are not just spaces where we gather, laugh, joke and find community, but they are actually spaces that help us survive in the United States.”
Others may even find barbershops to be among the few places where they can safely discuss more serious issues, like partner abuse, Wun said. She explained that she has met stylists who will support domestic violence survivors who come to their place or help clients escape dangerous relationships.
Choimorrow, who grew up visiting the Korean salon regularly with her grandmother, said Asian-owned beauty salons are havens for Asian American women in a way that even other immigrant spaces are not.
Churches, for example, have become essential civic spaces for organizing immigrant communities. However, some do not always provide the necessary support for women in difficult relationships. Helen Jin Kim, assistant professor of American religious history at Emory University, previously told NBC Asian America that much of the preaching in immigrant Christian churches assumes that sexual encounters, for example, will be positive. , avoiding the “underside of the male-female dynamic”. like domestic violence or marital rape.
Choimorrow said domestic violence or spousal abuse continues to be a taboo to be addressed publicly in the community.
“[Salons] are really rare spaces where women can actually get help if they need it,” she said. “I know organizations that reach out to women in these places because they know it.
Besides being a space away from racism and violence, advocates say that for many immigrant women, time spent in ethnic hair salons can be a balm for the isolation they feel in the United States. . this loss is an integral part of the immigration journey, and many, especially those who have left their country due to turbulent environments, must grieve their country of origin and the breakdown of their social networks.
Among the bottles of permanent solution and shampoo, many women have the rare opportunity to grieve, Wun said. And new connections are forged when clients and stylists swap lifestyle tips, tell stories, or trade neighborhood gossip.
“People develop friendships in these places. They watch out for each other,” added Choimorrow.
Wun mentioned that socializing in these spaces allows for more authentic interactions between women. There are quiet cultural customs and behaviors that they don’t need to explain to themselves. And emotions, some of which can only be described in their native language, can be expressed comfortably.
“The United States, in general, has very, very limited language resources and access to immigrant communities. And so, it’s so important that they have these intimate ethnic spaces where they don’t have to defend themselves,” Wun said. “They don’t have to contextualize. They can simply be in community. … They may be at home in a place that could make things very foreign to them.
The United States, in general, has very, very limited language resources and access to immigrant communities. And so, it’s so important that they have these intimate ethnic spaces.
CONNIE WUN, AAPI WOMEN LEADER
However, Miliann Kang, author of “The Managed Hand: Race, Gender, and the Body in Beauty Service Work,” said that even though bonds are formed at salons, they are still businesses that require a significant amount of ” emotional work” to cultivate the intimate atmosphere. Relationships between stylists and clients often take years to develop, and other gestures, such as serving fruit in the salon or allowing clients to drop off their children while they run errands, are extra work that business owners assume.
“I think there’s a stereotype that there’s this whole bonding happening automatically, and that takes away from the fact that it actually takes a lot of work on the part of the business owner as well as the hairdressers to create that feeling of welcome and caring,” Kang mentioned.
The kind of tenderness in the work itself, Kang said, is also key to fostering special bonds and a comforting space.
“There’s something about sitting in a chair — you have this very intimate exchange with someone, just the fact that they’re touching you gently,” Kang said. “It’s a form of healing. They are attentive to your physical and emotional needs.