For Hmong Americans, Suni Lee's golden Olympic run is representation on the world stage | KSTP.com

For Hmong Americans, Suni Lee's golden Olympic run is representation on the world stage

Brittney Ermon
Updated: July 31, 2021 08:43 PM
Created: July 31, 2021 07:49 PM

Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee captured the heart of the country, inspiring Americans to learn more about Hmong refugees and their families.

The St. Paul gymnast defied gravity with the weight of the world on her shoulders, bringing attention to a community that felt forgotten. 

"I don't think that she owes the community anything,"  Vegan East owner Shelia Nelson said. "She's just her own woman. She's doing her thing. But it's good to have a highlight on the Hmong people."

Showing appreciation was a piece of cake. Nelson put Suni Lee's big win on display in Vegan East by baking cupcakes in her honor. 

“She’s Hmong and I’m Hmong, and so I wanted to support her and just let the Hmong community know that you know, women are out here doing their thing in businesses and gymnastics,” Nelson said. 

Baking is Nelson's bread and butter — she built her business from the ground up. 

But she said it goes against the norm in her culture. 

"Culturally Hmong women are — I wouldn't say all of them, but most — they're kind of like just the wife, the mother, kind of like held back a little bit by the older generation, I would say,” Nelson said. 

It’s a narrative that Lee is changing. 

Nelson said putting the Hmong community on the map opens new doors of opportunity. 

"It's really important to see that young women are out here doing their thing. They can do it. We can do it. We have the motivation, the drive and the creativity to do it also,” she said.

Lee stepped on a national stage paving the way as the first Hmong American to win the all-around gold medal.

"I think it was really exciting for me personally because it's definitely gotten better, but Asian American representation in the media has been really low,” Lee supporter Kevin Song said. 

A community that felt forgotten is now on center stage.  

"It’s good that we're shedding some light about that and about the Hmong people, where they came from, how they got here and that we are here," Nelson said. "We’re being Americans living the American dream."

Lee has two competitions left. She'll compete in the uneven bars final Sunday, followed by the balance beam final on Tuesday.


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