Hmong Americans are often obscured by model minority myth. Why Suni Lee’s win means so much.

Lee’s Olympic gold isn’t about meritocracy in the U.S.: It’s a reflection of the resilience of Hmong Americans, a predominantly refugee community, as well as her own, experts said.

7/31/2021 6:32:00 AM

Suni Lee’s Olympic gold isn’t about meritocracy in the U.S.: It’s a reflection of the resilience of Hmong Americans, a predominantly refugee community, as well as her own, experts say.

Lee’s Olympic gold isn’t about meritocracy in the U.S.: It’s a reflection of the resilience of Hmong Americans, a predominantly refugee community, as well as her own, experts said.

, a reaction that reverberated across the Hmong community, a predominantly refugee group.Experts say both the struggles and achievements of the Hmong community, an ethnic group with origins in Southeast Asia, have long been shrouded in decades of model minority stereotypes attached to the greater Asian American diaspora. So Lee’s win is far more than another addition to the nation’s medal count.

Australia's Fraser Island officially restored to Aboriginal name K'Gari 'I just cry': Dying of hunger in Ethiopia's blockaded Tigray About the only job women can do for the Kabul government is clean female bathrooms, acting mayor says

Sunisa Lee's parents Yeev Thoj, left, and John Lee and other family and friends react as they watch Sunisa Lee clinch the gold medal in the women's Olympic gymnastics all-around at the Tokyo Olympics on July 29, 2021 in Oakdale, Minn.Elizabeth Flores / Star Tribune via AP

For many Hmong people, “there is no other country than the U.S.,” Kham Moua, director of national policy at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, told NBC Asian America.“We don't have any significant ties anymore, at least the population here, to really any other country. This is really our country. This is our home,” Moua, who woke up before dawn every day to watch Lee compete, said. “My Facebook has been just filled with posts about Suni from Hmong folks all over the country. It's super exciting.” headtopics.com

In the past, Lee has gushed about her tight-knit community in Minnesota, which boasts a Hmong population of roughly 66,000, many of whom ended up in the area due to refugee resettlement. Though the group’s origins in the U.S. began roughly a half-century ago, fleeing war and genocide, experts say its story has been obscured by tropes and images of wealthy Asian Americans who enjoy a much higher degree of privilege compared to that of the community.

July 30, 202105:26About 60 percent of Hmong Americans are low-income and about a quarter live in poverty, according to a2020 SEARAC report. Compared to all other racial groups, Hmong Americans fare the worst across nearly all measures of income. When it comes to educational attainment, almost 30 percent of Southeast Asian Americans haven’t completed high school or passed the GED tests, compared to the 13 percent of the general population who have experienced the same, the report said.

Zoua Vang, associate professor of sociology at McGill University, in Canada, said many of these structural inequalities can be traced back to the United States' treatment of refugees following what has become known as the “secret war” of the 1960s. The U.S. had recruited many members of the Hmong community in Laos to fight on their behalf. Though the objective was to stave off communist control in the country, Laos fell to the Pathet Lao, communist national forces, in 1975. When U.S. troops pulled out, many Hmong fled for Thailand and various refugee camps before resettling across America.

Sunisa Lee of Team United States poses with her gold medal after winning the Women's All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 29, 2021.Jamie Squire / Getty Images“Certainly a lot of people, and I would count myself in this camp, feel that the government has let us down in terms of its obligations to help Americans, Hmong immigrants more generally, resettle and thrive in America,” Vang said. “The U.S. government has basically, like it does to most immigrants once they're here, stopped their responsibility to help these immigrants integrate into society.” headtopics.com

Ed Sheeran Debuts at No. 1 In U.K. With 'Shivers' At least 8 dead in shooting at Russian university, police say 8 people killed in shooting at Russian university

Hmong veterans continue to struggle with the lack of equal recognition and benefits for their sacrifices compared to U.S. vets, Vang said, which has become a “long-standing fight and struggle for people of that generation.”With little government support, responsibility fell on private organizations and religious institutions to help the refugees, Vang said. Many Hmong Americans were forced to turn to or create their own support networks.

“Suni is so different from all those narratives because, certainly, there are echoes of war and trauma in her family's narrative. Her narrative is not a war narrative; it's a narrative about success,” Moua said. “We are talking about her as an individual, as an American, and quite honestly, it's so different from what we've seen. It's a positive narrative, too.”

However, experts stress that though Lee’s story is one of achievement and grit, it’s important that her narrative does not further perpetuate the idea that such extraordinary accomplishments are inevitable by just “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.” Lee’s success isn’t so much proof of the opportunities or meritocracy in the U.S. but more so a reflection of the resilience of her community, they said.

Family and friends react after Sunisa Lee of Team United States won gold in the Women's All-Around Final on day six of the Tokyo Olympic Games at a watch party on July 29, 2021 in Oakdale, Minn. Read more: NBC News »

Gavin Newsom holds onto his job as California governor, CNN projects

California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has defeated the effort to remove him from office, according to a projection from the CNN Decision Desk, capping off a recall effort that was born in partisan anger over his pandemic response but ended with a vote of confidence in his strategy to combat it.

So, like… nbcnews… Suni could only go one day as just a happy American who won 🥇 — before turning her into a social specimen slide for a forensic deep dive into her culture PLUS a polemic for meritocracy? One day? No wonder people hate the media. 'Suni Lee’s Olympic gold isn’t about meritocracy in the U.S.' way to dumb down her effort and hard work dipshits. Oh yeah, those are American values, so of course you don't like them.

Gymnast Sunisa Lee Becomes the First Hmong American to Win a Gold MedalThe 18-year-old has made history at the Tokyo Games.

Gymnast Sunisa Lee Becomes the First Hmong American to Win a Gold MedalThe 18-year-old has made history at the Tokyo Games. 🥇

Gymnast Sunisa Lee Becomes the First Hmong American to Win a Gold MedalThe 18-year-old has made history at the Tokyo Games. And she’s only 18 !!!

Gymnast Sunisa Lee Becomes the First Hmong American to Win a Gold MedalThe 18-year-old has made history at the Tokyo Games. Congratulations bestiee😩✨✨✨

Sunisa Lee's Olympic Gold Medal Sparks An Eruption Of Hmong PrideSunisa Lee, thought to be the first Hmong American athlete in the Olympics, won the women’s all-around gymnastics. this is terrible news What White Pride? Oh no wait, Hmong Pride, ok. Why can’t she just be an American? Only the racists at huff post wouldn’t think non whites aren’t American

Inside Gymnast Suni Lee’s Journey to Olympic GoldGymnast sunisalee_ is the first-ever Hmong American to win a Gold medal. “People hate on [Asians] for no reason. It would be cool to show that we are more than what they say.' Read more on her journey to Olympic champion: sunisalee_ 👒💁‍♀️🙌🙌🎉👍🥇🎉🥳🇺🇸🇺🇸Minnesotan Olympics2020 Champion❣ sunisalee_ CONGRATULATIONS sunisalee_ CongratsSuni and to all Team 💪 StrongerTogether