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Suni Lee's Olympic Triumph a Boost for MN Hmong Community


Monday, August 9, 2021   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Over the weekend, local celebrations were held in honor of Minnesota's Suni Lee, who brought home a trio of gymnastics medals from the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Hmong leaders also see her accomplishments as a major cultural victory.

The City of St. Paul is bursting with pride after one of its own made history at the Summer Games.

The 18 year-old Lee became the first Asian American woman to win gold in the Olympics' all-around competition. She captured silver and bronze medals as well.

Bo Thao-Urabe, executive director of the Coalition of Asian-American Leaders - who, like Lee, is of Hmong descent - said this is a "big deal" for their people.

"We often talk about our Hmong community," said Thao-Urabe. "And I feel like it's often about tragedies or about needs, but this moment is really a moment of celebration."

She said despite their contributions, Hmong people can feel invisible - and oftentimes are lumped in with other Asian origin groups in America.

Lee's triumph comes at a time of growing anti-Asian American violence, as well as hardships from the pandemic. Minnesota is home to the second-largest Hmong population in the U.S.

Because Lee has expressed proud feelings about her heritage, local leaders say other Hmong children might feel they can achieve individual success. State Rep. Kaohly Vang Her - DFL-St. Paul - has two daughters, whom she said can now feel "seen," like all other Hmong residents in the area.

"For us, to say like a Hmong woman stood on a stage," said Her, "an Asian American woman stood on a stage and said, 'We are not invisible, and we are here, and you will see us.' That was really powerful. "

Lee's family has also captured the spotlight given the strong support she has received from her father, who is paralyzed.

The local leaders say her father's recognition is vital, but Lee's mother also should receive attention for her contributions.

They hope Lee's success elevates women and girls in what has been described as a Hmong culture that favors males.

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