Celebrating Sunisa Lee, Olympic Gold Medalist From St. Paul

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St. Paul’s Suni Lee made a lot of people proud Thursday. The 18-year-old daughter of Hmong immigrants is now a champion and a role model for the ages. Tiffany Bui reports.
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St. Paul’s Suni Lee made a lot of people proud Thursday. The 18-year-old daughter of Hmong immigrants is now a champion and a role model for the ages. Tiffany Bui reports.

Sunisa Lee of St. Paul, the first Hmong Olympian, is bringing home the gold in the gymnastics all-around competition. A packed room of friends, family and hundreds of fans in Oakdale erupted in cheers at her victory on Thursday.

Mor Chia Nguyen’s 7-year-old daughter Emma, is also in gymnastics. Nguyen said Sunisa Lee is paving the way for other Asian girls.

“Representation matters so much, especially in a sport like gymnastics where it is predominantly white Americans,” Nguyen said. “For her generation that's growing up, she's seeing more and more people like her achieve higher and higher goals.”

Many Hmong families settled in Minnesota as refugees after the Vietnam War. The CIA recruited Hmong soldiers to fight in the Secret War in Laos, but the U.S. abandoned the population after withdrawing from Vietnam.

Nguyen said there were many classes she wanted to take as a child, but her family couldn’t afford to pay for them. She wanted to make sure her daughter would have the chance to dream bigger - and commends Sunisa Lee’s family for doing the same.

“ I really admire her parents for working so hard to get to her dream,” Nguyen said. She read an article that said it was their dream too..” So I thought that was really beautiful.”

Lee’s win is already inspiring the next generation of Hmong gymnasts. Nine-year-old Ari Lee, no relation to Sunisa, trains at the same gym as the now-Olympian.

“I think her win really helped me and other athletes to believe that they can do it,” Ari said. “My goal is to make it to the elite level and go to the Olympics.”

Sunisa Lee could win even more at her bars final on Sunday. Thanks to Kare 11’s Gia Vang for recording the cheers in Oakdale. For the Racial Reckoning Project, I’m Tiffany Bui.

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