suni lee

Bay Area's Hmong Community Celebrates Suni Lee's Historic Gold Medal Win

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NBC Bay Area

There were plenty of cheers for Sunisa Lee or Suni for short as she vaulted, contorted and balanced her way through all her gymnastics routines on Thursday.

The Hmong community in the United States is pretty small and tight knit, so even at Thursday’s watch party in Milpitas, there's a feeling of only a few degrees of separation.

“We're not close, but we know each other. My husband had played soccer with Suni's dad,” said Louansee Moua of Milpitas.

For many in the Hmong community, Lee simply being in the Olympics was a big deal. But her Gold Medal is at a whole other level.

It was at the end of her floor exercise - when the scores were announced --- it became clear she won gold - and made history.

Lee is the first Asian American woman to win gold for the United States and the first Hmong athlete ever to win gold.

“I never thought that in my lifetime that I'd be able to see someone of Hmong descent, receive a gold medal at the Olympics,” Moua said.

For a community that has been in the United States for nearly 50 years, their experience here has been difficult and often unknown.

Elders like Choua Thao can remember cruel comments through the years made even worse by the ignorance of those commenting.

“People say, hey, you are Chinese. Go back to China. But we are not. We are Hmong from Laos. They don't know,” she said.

Choua was among those who escaped Laos after her family and friends helped the United States during the Vietnam conflict.

Oakland City Council Member Sheng Thao said Lee’s Olympic moment will no doubt make more people curious about their culture.

They are a people without their own country.

“People say, what's that relatable too, I say it's kind of sort of like Native Americans here. We are indigenous people,” she said. As Lee donned her gold medal, It means everyone who is Hmong can be proud and more importantly, they can be a litter better understood.

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