DES MOINES, Iowa — A Des Moines couple is getting married this summer and their love story is made for Hollywood or the Hallmark Channel. It’s a match that is decades in the making.
You might say Jasmine Vong and Jeffrey Newland were destined to be together. Their love story dates back to their high school days at Roosevelt, but it didn’t really blossom until their time at the University of Iowa.
“I think when he started coming around my family more and more,” said Jasmine.
“Jasmine brought this handsome guy with her and we were kind of peeking out the window, who’s this, who’s this?” explained Jasmine’s Aunt Sone Lovan.
The answer came as a surprise and uncovered a shared past. An event decades ago that forever links their families.
“The story of the Tai Dam people, at least in my generation, it won’t be lost because we often tell our kids why there are in a place where they’re at,” said Lovan.
In 1975, she was nine when her family fled Laos following the Vietnam War. With little more than the clothes on their backs, they had no place to go. Until former Governor Robert Ray stepped in and welcomed the Tai Dam refugees to Iowa.
Jasmine’s family was among the first wave of 3,500 people from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam to make Iowa their home.
“What my mom and dad taught me, don’t ever forget where you came from because there’s always a story behind it. Good or bad. Our kids have it so easy, but we don’t want them to forget,” said Lovan.
“I took the story for granted. I was, it was big talk within my family,” said Jasmine.
“I think that’s why so many Tai Dam families appreciate him so much. They call him the grandfather of the Tai Dam people,” said Lovan.
He’s more than an honorary family member to Jeffrey. Governor Ray is his grandfather.
“I never really thought of him as the politician. You know when I grew up, he was just grandpa. All he ever really wanted to do was spend time with his family, go get ice cream and shoot hoops in the backyard,” remembered Jeffrey.
“It’s pretty special. The older I get the more special it becomes. It’s just nice I think with this wedding coming that it brings it full circle. Without my dad, we wouldn’t have Jasmine and her family here that have become so close to us,” explained Jeffrey’s Aunt Randi Watson.
Ray passed away in 2018. Jasmine lost her mother a few years ago. The couple is keeping their memory and the Tai Dam culture alive during their wedding celebration. The night before, she plans to wear a traditional outfit. There will also be Tai Dam food and music.
“That way we can incorporate some of the culture on our special day,” said Jasmine.
“I have no doubt he’s smiling down. This is something that he was the matchmaker 50 years ago and now he’s watching his grandson marry a refugee’s daughter,” said Jeffrey.
“I just think he would be super, super excited. I just think he would be so super excited for those two individuals and all I can see is he would have his camera out and he would be taking picture after picture after picture. Just to capture the happiness that the two share,” said Watson.
Jasmine and Jeffrey’s story is a legacy of love and their wedding brings it full circle.