Suni Lee’s impact on local Hmong American athletes

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – From the world’s stage to one of dancing’s biggest stages, Sunisa Lee remains in the spotlight.

From the Olympics to Season 30 of “Dancing With The Stars,” the Minnesota Hmong American continues to embrace new opportunities with plenty of attention.

The Olympic gold medalist has been highlighting her Hmong American background by sharing her story, and that story is having an impact right here in La Crosse.

Julie Yang, Sofia Vang, and Mai See Xiong are all high school students and athletes at La Crosse Logan. They sat down with News 19. They reflected on Lee’s success and shared what they are taking away from her success.

“I was very proud and it makes me believe that I can go to the Olympics one day,” said Julie Yang, a sophomore and track & field athlete.

“Especially listening to her story of her as a young kid and her father being her biggest inspiration, it’s very inspiring to me,” said Junior Mai See Xiong, a powerlifter and track & field athlete. “It makes me believe that maybe I can be at the Olympics one day, too.” 

Lee’s influence is also stirring up conversation in Hmong American households over participation in extracurricular activities.

“My parents, sometimes they do view sports as, “Oh, it’s a side hobby. It’s not going to help you in the future. Get your education done. Go to college,” said Xiong. “They kind of push the topic of sports as it’s not as important, you’re not going to make money out of it, and I think that’s something that is hard to put on them.”

Through sports Mai See, Sofia, and Julie say they’ve created more friendships and enjoyed the intangible results of extracurriculars. But these opportunities were not always available when Hmong people first immigrating to the U.S.

“I think for Hmong American kids to be more in sports, it does mean the older generations before us has to encourage it too,” said Xiong. “Obviously, because they are older, and in the Hmong community, we respect the elders, and if they were to encourage Hmong kids to join, I think there would definitely be more Hmong kids in activities.” 

These girls say their participation is already attracting the attention of younger generations.

“We have kids coming up from middle schools watching us play and everything, and if they see us play, they might want to join that sport as well,” said Vang.

Their advice to young Hmong Americans is to have a talk with their parents or guardian, but also just go out and do it.

Do your sports or an activity you enjoy or are passionate about,” said Vang.” Otherwise, you’re just going to miss out on what you want to do.”