Maybe you’ve heard of her—she’s taken first place at the singing competition at the Fresno Hmong New Year. She’s a YouTube sensation, featuring videos of her Hmong covers and original English-and-Hmong songs. She’s been a performer at the First Annual Hmong Music Awards. She’s been a model of Hmong clothing for this very news publication…and she’s not Hmong.
Jasmine Tierra Jean Bondurant was born on July 13, 1992 in Rockford, Illinois. One of three daughters to a single mother, Jasmine was no stranger to traveling: she has lived in over five different states, including Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas. These experiences have allowed Jasmine to encounter all kinds of different experiences…and different peoples.
In July 2006, Jasmine and her family moved to Minnesota, which is where she first learned of the Hmong community. “I had no knowledge of the Hmong population prior to living in Minnesota,” she said. When she was accepted into Arlington High School in St. Paul, she befriended a girl named Panyia Kong on the first day of school. “Over the course of time we became great friends” Jasmine said. She added that she has always been interested in learning about different cultures, but that the Hmong culture specifically captured her interest because she noticed so many similarities that reminded her of her own family when she attended a Hmong church with Panyia: “I saw how much Hmong people value spirituality and family. My family is very spiritual, we believe in acknowledging a higher power which is something I’ve noticed most Hmong people also have strong faith in,” Jasmine said.
As Jasmine and Panyia’s friendship grew, they naturally began to share in each other’s music interests as well. While Jasmine shared her music collections featuring artists such as Cece Winans and MaryMary, Panyia shared her Jeff and Cicily CDs, featuring Hmong Christian music. It was the first time Jasmine had ever heard Hmong singers: “I remember loving the way the language sounded as well as their beautiful voices and I was inspired,” Jasmine said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Jasmine says that singing has always been a part of her life: “I grew up in a family of so many musicians. Most members of my family either sing, play an instrument, rap or dance.” She discovered her own passion for music at the early age of three while sitting in church listening to the choir. “I began singing in churches and local events at the age of 7,” Jasmine said, “I remember singing every chance I would get. When I was in the second grade my best friend and I would make fake microphones out of paper, and during recess hour we would sing for our teacher!” By the time Jasmine was nine, she had already written over 100 songs, recorded them on cassette tape, and passed them out around the community. “I received great feedback from so many people,” she said.
However, her experiences had always been singing songs in English—singing in a whole other language seemed impossible for Jasmine. It wasn’t until after her four years in high school that she heard the song Mi Noog by Suddenrush. “It was SOOOO popular in the Hmong community and being a student at Arlington High School, where half the population consisted of Hmong students, I couldn’t help but hear it all the time!” Jasmine laughed. “After I had a friend translate the meaning of the lyrics to me, I fell in love with the song.” During her senior year, she surprised her friends with a performance of Mi Noog during her school’s Mini Hmong New Year Celebration. “Somehow it just felt so right!” Jasmine shared of her experience. “I prepared for that event by consulting a Hmong teacher for help in understanding Hmong dialect. She was so sweet and determined to teach me how to speak Hmong. She taught me how to read most Hmong words within four hours!” With the support and positive feedback she received after that performance, Jasmine was inspired to go further.
The decision to compete in the 2009 Hmong New Year at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis was her idea, as she had always admired the festivities each year at the Hmong New Year celebrations. “I find them very beautiful,” she said. When she told her friends that she wanted to compete, she received their full support. “I was so grateful for them,” she said. “[My friend’s] parents prepped me with the introduction speeches and clothed me in proper Hmong attire for the event. There were many long nights leading up to the competition dates where I would be sitting with my best friend’s mom learning how to introduce myself in Hmong as well as brushing up on my competition songs.” After her first performance, Jasmine knew she would carry the experience on forever. “One of the best things was an elderly woman who could barely walk came up to me speaking in Hmong [after my performance], with her daughter beside her translating,” Jsamine said, “the woman took my hand and squeezed it firmly, telling me that she wanted for me to keep singing in Hmong. That small moment has stuck with me since then and I hope wherever she is today she is proud.”
With the outpour of love and support from that experience, Jasmine was then inspired to take her talent even further: in December 2011, she decided to go on and compete in the Fresno Hmong New Year singing competition. “I was surprised at the amount of people who were rooting for me during the competition,” she shared. When Jasmine was announced as 1st place winner, she remembered being in total shock: “It was that moment that made me become so serious about singing Hmong music. When I arrived back in Houston after the competition, I immediately started writing Hmong songs.”
Just eleven months later, on November 3, 2012, Jasmine released her first English/Hmong CD One Step At a Time. The album features a mixture of love songs and inspirational songs. “When I write music my objective each and every time is to provide lyrics that touch the soul in some way,” she shared. She made her album quickly because she didn’t want people to think that after she won in Fresno that she would just fall between the cracks. “I didn’t want to be known just as the African-American girl who won the Hmong International New Year singing competition and did nothing else afterwards. I was determined to show my gratitude,” Jasmine said.
Support has spread like wildfire for the African-American girl with the gall to sing Hmong songs, but naturally, not everyone has been a fan. Jasmine encountered her first huge dose of criticism after she won the competition. She looked on YouTube to view her performance and although the video hadn’t even been up for 24 hours, tons of negative comments had already been posted, including one person who went out of their way to post a lengthy response video stating why she should not have won the Fresno singing competition. “I was shocked,” Jasmine said, “since I first began singing in the Hmong language, I had only received such encouraging and positive feedback.” However, Jasmine has developed a thick skin when it comes to things like haters: “It didn’t discourage me. It opened my eyes and made me stronger. I’ve always been taught everything happens for a reason.”
“If someone would have told me five years ago that someday so many beautifully spirited people would embrace my Hmong music I would have not believed them,” Jasmine shared. “Singing in Hmong was something I wanted to do because I wanted to challenge myself, however the response I received after [my performances] was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced musically and I felt in my heart this was something I would seek further. When I think of how much the Hmong Community has supported me, I feel so much gratitude. It is truly a blessing and that is why I strive to keep learning and producing.”
Jasmine’s CD can be purchased at local Hmong markets and online at http://jasminetierra.bigcartel.com/product/jasmine-tierra-one-step-at-a-time-album.