Shirley Temple died on February 10. 2014. Watching the parade of clips from her 1930s movies on TV that night brought back the magic she had as a child to delight and entertain. How many hours did we spend watching her tap her way through hard times and good?
It was actually Shirley Temple who triggered the story you’re about to hear. The year was 1999. I had been getting manicures for awhile at a Vietnamese nail shop in San Francisco from a woman named Shirley. Over the months I had come to know her a bit, she would ask about our radio shows, I would ask about her daughter Crystal. One day as we talked it occurred to me, why is this woman named Shirley? She is from Vietnam. There are no Shirley’s there.
When I asked how she came to be Shirley she told the most harrowing story of her passage to America as a young girl, her separation from her brother and mother as they escaped Vietnam by boat, how she washed ashore in America alone, sick and scared out of her mind, speaking no English.
She said in Vietnam her name was Hang, which means ‘Lonely woman looking at the moon.” Hang was hospitalized. In the hospital room she watched the black and white TV on the wall. Over and over she saw a little girl dancing, who was happy. She told herself she had to stop crying for her mother and brother. She was in America. She had to be happy too. Someone told her the little girl’s name was Shirley, Shirley Temple. So she took that name.
Shirley led us into her world. We spent months in Vietnamese nail salons, chronicling the lives of the women working there. Today we call this story “French Manicure: The Long Shadow of Shirley Temple”