When Kathy Pham immigrated from Saigon, Vietnam, to San Rafael, California, in 1989, she was 18 years old and searching for opportunity.

To make a living, Pham turned to a line of work a lot of other first- and second-generation Vietnamese women in California find themselves in: the nail salon industry. She enrolled in cosmetology school and has been painting nails ever since.

Doing manicures and pedicures didn’t pay much, and the job came with more than its fair share of headaches, like long hours, rude customers and toxic chemicals, but Pham liked it well enough. She even grew to enjoy it, eventually ending up at a salon with great colleagues and “customers that treat us like family.” Pham, a single mom, was clocking in seven days a week to support herself and her three kids.

Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, putting Pham out of work.