Gymnastic fanatics and non-fanatics alike, have seen Hmong-American gymnast Sunisa Lee, making waves with her recent win at the 2019 U.S. National Gymnastics Championships.
And ever since, it seems our social media feeds, and hearts, have been raving her name across all platforms.
We’ve been seeing a lot of firsts from our Hmong community in the past few years….first Gerber baby, first judge, first female firefighter, first dancer, first…
But, Sunisa’s first Hmong gymnast win brought on a different feeling from the rest.
In the non-Hmong-American eye, it might seem as though we just have another 2020 Olympic candidate in the running.
But for us Hmong-Americans, I think it is the closest thing we have to a patriotic experience.
Because it seems like growing up, we would search for connection to any Asian face on TV--Michelle Kwon, Lucy Luu, Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, etc.
And maybe this is marking the beginning of us getting used to seeing the faces of our own, not just Asian but Hmong, on TV, on the news, on stories of success.
Sunisa’s win means more to us than a silver medal, it, along with all other firsts, is the fruit of everything our people have ever endured and survived in all of our history, and it is the key to a limitless future our children can now believe in and achieve.
It is the soothing of our heartache, knowing how far we’ve come despite being oppressed, killed off, and evicted over and over.
It is knowing that there are hundreds of ethnicities out there that exist without a country, and here we are, being recognized by a nation.
My generation was brought up on the standards of striving to at least “keep up” with the “(White) Americans.”
And Sunisa’s win proves that, that time is coming to an end, where we are now finally adapted (and progressed) enough to be our own standards.
That we can be our own “beautiful,'' our own “intelligent,” our own “talented” and our own “successful.”
She alongside so many thriving Hmong individuals, honing and mastering their own crafts--are becoming the new faces of success for our future children to follow--to envision and witness dreams and goals that look like them.
That our firsts--will just be a thing of our past one day coming soon.
That’s probably why we are so inexplicably, so mutually, proud, and whole.
I hope we continue to support, love, and encourage these striving individuals, whether they have reached the public eye or not, to keep chasing and living their dreams. Because they will pave a path for our children, and our country-less people. And to genuinely celebrate them without pressuring them to feel as if they owe us anything as their people. And to not be too quick to judge and criticize them for being “Hmong enough” or not.
I think it is beautiful to be Hmong in the way you know how, as long as you are proud of where you came from, and proud to carry our identity to the places you dream to reach.
I am happy to see, many individual Hmong people in the world; in China, in Laos, in Thailand, in Vietnam, everywhere, rise above our history, and truly rewrite our narrative to be one of the most resilient, hardworking, and talented people history has yet to know.
Sunisa (and all others), we are rooting for you. And as you march across the stage wearing the American flag, we cheer you on with our Hmong history and identity in our hearts.