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Hmong community celebrates Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee

As the first Hmong-American Olympian, bringing home the gold medal is meaningful to Minnesota's Hmong community.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Before most of us were awake, a Minnesota family watched as their own Sunisa Lee won the gold medal in the women's all-around gymnastics event at the Tokyo Summer Games.

"I'm so happy for her," Lee's step cousin Faith Thao said. "I was like screaming and then talking to everybody else too."

By now the news has spread and state lawmakers are just as enthused.

"I saw the notification from ESPN this morning," said State Rep. Fue Lee (DFL) - District 59A.

Rep. Lee says after clicking the article he immediately discussed it with his mother.

"My mom doesn't watch any kind of sports so that was interesting that she knew who she was," he said.

State Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL) represents District 67 in East St. Paul, where Sunisa Lee's family lives.

"I heard my wife's voice cheering, you know, 'woo-hoo,' so I knew right away that Sunisa Lee won," Hawj said.

As the Hmong community celebrates, people are also reflecting on what an accomplishment of this magnitude means.

"Her competition represents larger than just the Olympic Games for the Hmong American community here in Minnesota," Rep. Lee said. "It really represents us really having a designation or, you know, even a country to call home. Fleeing war and persecution in Southeast Asia and now coming to the U.S., for myself as a politician, as an elected official I represent Minnesota. We raise our hand to the constitution and I'm glad that Sunisa is representing our country, the USA, in Tokyo."

Sen. Hawj is already working on a resolution to honor her.

"Now our story is heard," he said. "We are the forgotten people of Southeast Asia who have helped America during the Vietnam War. Her story kind of symbolizes that. Her teammate Simone Biles, you know, couldn't continue anymore and she saved the team. She saved the American team."

Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL) - District 40B describes the significance of this at a time when Asian hate crimes are on the rise.

"She made us proud beyond what our words can contain it," Rep. Vang said. "From now on, I hope no one can tell us we’re not Americans, no one can tell us to go back to where we came from, no one can say they’re not proud to be Hmong."

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