The Politicization of Our Olympian
My first essay on Medium asked the question to Hmong Americans, what unites us now? At the end of my essay, I didn’t have the answer. But as the Olympic Trials and Games entered into full swing, the spotlight on Sunisa Lee got brighter and brighter. On July 29, 2021, she won Gold; what a moment. I remember exactly where I was when I found out.
I had just dropped off my kids and was backing out of the parking when my brother texted me at 8:02 AM — “Suni got gold bro.” I was ecstatic. I stopped at the T-intersection, opened my social media, and shared post after post. It was probably the most posts I’ve put out in a 15-minute window. When I got to work, the first thing I did was approach a Hmong colleague and said, “Suni won gold!” I got emotional too. My Hmong friends’ overwhelming outpour of joy and excitement on social media was such a collective moment of victory; her victory was a victory for us all.
For the first time in a long time, a unifying figure for the Hmong community emerged. Sunisa’s ascent to the highest rungs competition is a testament to our community’s grit — displayed generations over. Her story of fortitude and excellence is a beautiful, inspiring, and unifying story. She is the most transcendent phenomenon our community has ever seen. I just wish we could have reveled in her triumph a little longer before infusing it with the poison of politics.
Before the Olympic Games, I remember telling my wife and brother that I hope we don’t politicize Sunisa. It will ruin everything and divide everyone. But we can’t turn off the politics. As the saying goes, politics ruins everything. So far as I’ve seen, three major themes have emerged from the politicizing — “Hmong girls who dream versus The Patriarchy,” “The Race Games,” and “Trashing of America.” My following essays hope to provide a more nuanced examination of these themes. But as they roll out, I hope we can just cherish this truly historical moment. Not only does our Hmong community deserve her story, but our nation also deserves her story. I hope she wins more medals in the remaining individual events and at future Olympics Games. So here’s to Sunisa Lee — the Hmong girl who flew, blazed a new path for her community, and joined the pantheon of Olympic immortality.