Lee rocketed to fame during the Tokyo Olympics when she brought home three medals, including one gold. The 18-year-old is the first American of Hmong descent to make a U.S. Olympic team.
Lee told PopSugar that she and a group of friends, all of Asian descent, were waiting for a ride after a night out in Los Angeles. She said a car drove by and the people inside shouted racist slurs and told the group to "go back to where they came from."
Lee said one person in the car sprayed her arm with pepper spray before the car drove away.
"I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off," Lee told PopSugar. "I didn't do anything to them, and having the reputation, it's so hard because I didn't want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen."
The gymnast confirmed to CNN that it happened in October when she was in Los Angeles to film "Dancing with the Stars."
Lee, who grew up in the Hmong-American community in St. Paul, Minnesota, told PopSugar it was hard to wrap her head around the incident. However, she said she knows her voice can make a difference.
California-based nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate said the reports it receives of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nearly doubled in March 2021. The organization said it received a total of more than 9,000 such reports from March 2020 to June 2021.
Many incidents were tied to the false belief that Asian people are to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic, with former president Donald Trump even referring to the virus as the "China Virus" or the "Kung Flu."