Role Models for My Daughters: Sunisa Lee

Image from The Guardian

This is a too-long-delayed “role models” post! I’m picking this series back up by highlighting an amazingly talented young woman, Sunisa Lee.

I never knew who the Hmong people were until my first day of freshman year in college. That’s when I met my dear friend Kou who has been a pillar of friendship for nearly two decades now! I learned so much from Kou about the Hmong people and their origins in China several thousand years B.C. They managed to hold onto their own culture, language, and food despite living under an imperialist rule for centuries. Starting in the late 1700s, the Hmong people fled China to escape persecution. They ended up in the mountains of Southeast Asia, especially in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand. Unfortunately, as it goes with colonialism, they faced attempts at control and suppression by the French. The Hmong people were drawn into multiple wars for the next several decades, including the Secret War in Laos and fighting on the American side during the Vietnam War, and how they came to immigrate to America as refugees in the aftermath of that war. The very first Hmong resettled in Minnesota in 1975. Minnesota is now home to many Hmong, including Sunisa Lee.

At 18 years old, Sunisa Lee became the first Hmong-American on the U.S. Olympic team. Lee dealt with family members’ deaths due to COVID19 during her training, but she persevered and went on to earn gold, silver, and bronze medals this year. She became a shining light for the Hmong community. Her wins on the global stage provide the recognition that the Hmong community has always deserved. In an interview, her father John Lee said:

“A lot of people don’t understand Hmong people or that we went through a really rough life to get here to the United States,” he told ESPN in July 2021. “Many groups of Asians get lumped together. Did you see the movie with Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino? It was based on the Hmong people, and even still no one knows. Maybe because of Sunisa, people might know us.”

Lee holds the honor of being on the TIME 100 list, has started her freshman year at Auburn, and will be competing in Dancing With the Stars! I look forward to seeing what more this bright young woman has to accomplish, for herself and her community.

Sunisa Lee with her parents and 5 siblings

Here are my other “Role Models for my Daughters” posts if you’d like to check them out:

Bharati Mukherjee

Michelle Obama

Lupita Nyong’o

Anoushka Shankar

Mindy Kaling

Misty Copeland

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