Sunisa’s Gold Medal Changes the Story of a Community in America

History was created at the Olympics. Sunisa Lee’s gold medal win at the Olympics has changed the story of Hmong Americans, who were targets of racial slurs when COVID-19 was described as the “Chinese Virus.” Lee has made America proud of her community.

During the pandemic, the Hmong American community was the target of hate crimes when COVID-19 was described as the “Chinese virus,” due the community’s Chinese ethnicity. But when Sunisa Lee, a daughter of this community, won a gold medal at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, she changed their story in America. America is now proud of her, and she received a hero’s welcome upon her return after she won the gold gymnastics medal. Lee’s win was key to helping America maintain its preeminent standing in Olympic gymnastics. The victory is important for Lee because it helped win recognition for the marginalized Hmong American community. The community has a history of suffering repression, war, migration and loss. Given this past, it is difficult to describe in words how inspiring it is for Hmong Americans to see one of their own 18-year-olds standing on the podium with a gold medal.

Hmong people, living in the mountains of Laos, secretly helped the United States during the Vietnam War. But America lost this war, and never recognized the contribution of 20,000 Hmong soldiers and 30,000 Hmong civilians who lost their lives in the conflict.

When the communists took over Laos, many Laotians fled to Thailand, where 30,000 then sought asylum in America. Lee’s family was among the refugees, reaching America in the 1970s. Today, 25% of the Hmong community in the United States live below the poverty line and 60% are considered low income. Her father said that Lee had to train using an artificial balance beam because the family couldn’t afford to buy a real one.

Lee is the first Asian American woman to win the gymnastics all-around gold medal, and her win made headlines in the Hmong community. News anchor Paddy Yang said, “Sunisa has proved that we are successful and can achieve anything. This gold medal will help remind American leaders of the Hmong community’s contribution, and inspire them to improve their history.”

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