This Amazing Woman Escaped The Cambodian Genocide And Became Cardi B's Personal Nail Artist

Jenny Bui is not your typical nail salon owner. For starters, she’s Cardi B's personal manicurist, and has been since Cardi’s dancing days in the Bronx. Add to that the fact that Bui was born in Cambodia and escaped the Khmer Rouge as a child during the Cambodian genocide, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a success story. 

Cardi B's nail artist has beat all the odds to become a successful business owner, recognized for her signature, crystal-encrusted manicures. When loyal client Cardi B hit the big time, she brought Bui with her. Now, Bui is known as The “Queen of Bling” throughout the Bronx - and the world. 

With amazing skills, an even more amazing backstory, and a stellar Instagram page, she’s definitely someone you should get to know. Read on to get your fix of Jenny Bui nail art and discover her heartbreaking, triumphant life story. 

  • Jenny Bui Was Born In Cambodia And Displaced By the Khmer Rouge

    Nail artist Jenny Bui was born in Cambodia, one of eight brothers and sisters. Her father was a cook and her mother sold sodas on the street, and her family lived well — until she was five years old and the the Khmer Rouge violently took over the country. As Bui puts it, "We lost everything." From the age of five until she was eight, her family lived in abject poverty and starvation while the war raged.

    They managed to escape to a Thai refugee camp, but Bui, her mother, and three of her siblings got separated from the rest of the family and ended up walking back to Cambodia over the course of three months. Toward the end of their journey, her younger brother developed chicken pox and passed away because they didn't have shelter, food, or medical supplies.

  • Her Family Escaped To Vietnam

    Through communicating with family in China, Bui and her mother found out that her father and siblings had found their way to Boston. Eventually, the other half of the family escaped to Vietnam

    "Life in Vietnam was better. My mom would pay for me to see a tutor for three hours a day to learn English, French, and Chinese — just enough to know how to say the alphabet and count,"

    Bui says. Then, when Bui turned 14, her brother (who was living in Canada at the time) sponsored her, her mother, and her sisters so that they could move to Montreal and be with him. 

  • Jenny Bui Got Married And Moved To The Bronx At 22

    While living in Montreal, Bui worked as a waitress and harvested strawberries at a local farm, then eventually became a dental assistant and stayed in Montreal for eight years. When she was 22 years old, she met and married her husband. Since he was from the Bronx, Bui moved there with him. "I didn’t work when I first moved to New York. I love the Bronx now, but I didn’t then. I cried every day," she says.

    She had her first child when she was 23, then another at 25, and decided to learn how to do nails in order to bring in money for the family. She taught herself the art, got a job at her sister-in-law's salon, and eventually opened up her own nail studio in the Bronx.

  • She Was Harassed Every Day

    Jenny didn't see a lot of foot traffic at her shop in the Bronx, and experienced a lot of racism during the tenure of her first and second salons. She explained,

    "Someone was like, 'Oh, you do good nails. Why don’t you try in Harlem? Maybe you’ll do better over there.' So I moved my shop to Harlem. But people gave me a really hard time there. They’d tell me things like, 'Go back to China,' or would call me 'Jenny from the boat.'"

    Bui maintains that the harassment forced her to learn English, and is partly responsible for her thick skin and determined work ethic: "When people pick on you, you have to learn how to be really tough."

  • She Developed Her Now-Famous Aesthetic When She Separated From Her Husband

    After 10 years of marriage, Jenny Bui and her husband separated in 2000. As a newly-single mother to three children, she started working seven days a week to make ends meet. It was around this time that a friend showed her a Japanese nail magazine that showed pictures of blinged-out nails. She remembers thinking, “Oh my god, imagine if I put the diamonds on my customers’ hands so they don’t have to wear jewelry. How nice would that be?”

    Bui put her brainstorm into action and went to work developing her aesthetic. She started out by giving customers one or two bling nails per session, as a complementary feature. But pretty soon, clients wanted every nail decked out in her signature style — and that’s how Jenny Bui became known as the “Queen of Bling.”

  • Cardi B Has Been A Loyal Client From The Beginning


    A post shared by Cardi B Official IG (@iamcardib) on

    After Bui started an Instagram account, Cardi B found her — but this was back when Cardi was a dancer at Sue’s Rendezvous, not the famous rapper she is today. The first time that Cardi visited the salon, one of Bui’s assistants did her nails. Cardi didn’t like the look and complained, but she came back later to have Jenny do her nails herself. She loved the result.

    “When I finished, Cardi screamed all over the salon. I still have the video posted way back on my Instagram of her screaming, 'Oh my god! You made my day! I’ve never had nails like this in my life!'" Bui shares. Since then, Cardi has been a loyal client.