Gynmasist Sunisa “Suni” Lee made history at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as she became the first Hmong American (Indigenous Chinese settled in the United States) Olympian.
Ultimately, she received gold, silver, and bronze in multiple events. Winning six world championship and Olympic medals, she tied with fellow gymnasts Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, Kim Zmeskal, and Rebecca Bross for “9th-most-decorated American female gymnast.”
Additionally, she made TIME Magazine‘s”Most Influential People” list. Also, Sports Illustrated named her “Female Athlete of the Year.”
As a result, she was met with much love and support from the Hmong community. Hmong Americans make up only about 327,000 of the population, according to the 2019 American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau, and representation is scarce.
Most Hmong Americans consist of those that fled to the United States as refugees in the late 1970s due to their cooperation with the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency operatives in northern Laos during the Vietnam War, and their descendants. Over half of the Hmong population from Laos left the country, or attempted to leave, in 1975, at the culmination of the war. At the time, the Pathet Lao launched an aggressive campaign to capture or kill Hmong soldiers and families who aided the CIA. Thousands of Hmong were evacuated or escaped on their own to Hmong refugee camps in Thailand. About 90% of those who made it to refugee camps in Thailand were ultimately resettled in the United States. The rest, about 8 to 10%, resettled in countries including Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Australia.
Unfortunately, the support from Lee’s own community seemed to end there.
Currently, Suni Lee is a student at Auburn University, and like many students, it’s a time for both studying and developing relationships. So, last week, she revealed that she has a boyfriend by going “Instagram official” with the relationship. She shared some sweet photos with him, simply captioning with a white heart emoji.
While you can typically comment on Lee’s posts, the comments feature is unavailable for this post. The reason seems to be that Lee was experiencing backlash since making the relationship public, and the reason why is heartbreaking.
According to Lee, she has received hate from fellow Hmong Americans for dating a Black man. This comes during a time of increased hate crimes across the country toward minority groups, Black and AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities.
Still, there are many Hmong Americans who are forever supportive of Lee. Recently, alix (@alixphom on TikTok), a content creator focused on “Bringing Hmong people together,” shared a video expressing his support for the relationship.
I know that Sunisa will be judged by certain eyes in the Hmong Community because her man is Black. LOVE is LOVE, no matter what race or gender you are. Keep doing you, QUEEN.
I know that Sunisa will be judged by certain eyes in the Hmong Community because her man is Black. LOVE is LOVE, no matter what race or gender you are. Keep doing you QUEEN ✨ #hmong #hmongtiktok #hmonggirl #hmongsong #hmongcheck #hmongfyp #fyp #foryou #foryourpage
The video has since gone viral with 565.8k views as of January 6, 2022. So, naturally, Lee saw the video and responded to alix with a sincere message of gratitude. In doing so, she also revealed that she has “received so much hate.”
this makes me so happy. i’ve received so much hate. they support me when it’s beneficial for them, never when it comes to my happiness. thank you!
— Suni Lee
Thanks to alix’s video, many have been encouraged to share their love and support for Lee and her boyfriend.
We hope that she continues to be the brave and strong individual we know her to be, as she’s no stranger to hate or tragedy. Before competing in her first senior USA Gymnastics National Championship, her father became paralyzed from the waist down after falling off a ladder. In 2020, she lost both her aunt and uncle to COVID-19.
I am tougher because of it.
— Suni Lee
happy birthday dad! thank you for always being my number 1 supporter & my bestfriend. i love you so much, you are the reason i do it all. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/YlqEPdreJq
— Sunisa lee (@sunisalee_) April 12, 2020
Last year, she competed in Season 30 of ABC‘s Dancing with the Stars. During this time, she also became the victim of a hate crime in which she and her friends were targeted due to their race. A car drove past them with people, screaming racist slurs, telling them to “go back to where they came from,” and they even pepper-sprayed her.
I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off … 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.
— Suni Lee to PopSugar