The Hmong American community is overcome with pride that one of their own is the new Women’s Gymnastics All Around gold medal champion.
The first Hmong American ever to represent Team USA at any Olympics is now also the first Hmong American gold medal winner.
“I’m getting goosebumps, actually. I just found out,” said Ava Xiong, 14, shortly after Lee’s victory, to Wisconsin Public Radio.
Just over 300,000 Hmong live in the United States-mostly in the Minneapolis area, Lee’s hometown, and in Fresno, California as well as Wisconsin. Like so many Southeast Asians, they came as refugees fleeing the communist take over.
Many Hmong Americans are unsung heroes who fought a secret war run by the CIA in Laos against the communist.
“I think for me, and a lot of my other Hmong friends, we were just so excited to see someone like us be at the Olympics. This morning when she won her gold medal, I had never seen a Hmong figure celebrated that globally before, other than, like, [the actress] Brenda Song,” said Phillipe Thao, a writer and activist from St. Paul, to Slate.
It’s highly likely many young girls will head to the gym with aspirations of being the next Suni Lee. For Hmong Americans in particular, her victory inspires new dreams and possibilities.
“In my conversations, especially with young Hmong people and Hmong women, Suni Lee is representative of hope and optimism for the future,” said Angela Vang, a reporter with NPR. “And in a culture that can sometimes be patriarchal, she is a reminder that we should never clip the wings of our daughters. You know, you don’t see a lot of families like Suni’s invest as much time and money and energy into young women. And I think what her family has done for her, too, is so exemplary.”
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