MILWAUKEE — When you mention Sunisa Lee, Lo Neng Kiatoukaysy bursts into a big smile.
Sunisa "Suni" Lee scored a gold medal in gymnastics for Team USA, and she is the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics, according to NBC News.
"My gosh, it's incredible," Kiatoukaysy said. "Being the first, making history, all of us are all so happy for her."
Kiatoukaysy is the executive director of the Hmong American Friendship Association in Milwaukee. Like many people in the Hmong community, he closely followed the gymnast's journey via social media.
To him, Lee's success pays tribute to the sacrifice he and thousands of Hmong families endured when they fled Southeast Asia for the United States following the Vietnam-era conflicts.
"All of us came from a refugee camp to America," Kiatoukaysy said. "Who would have thought that Sunisa is a gold medalist! It's a dream, it’s a dream come true."
Lee is 18 and is from St. Paul, Minn. Her father told NBC News he built her a balance beam in the backyard when she was younger because they couldn't afford to buy one. In 2019, he fell off a ladder and was paralyzed two days before Lee competed at the U.S. Championships.
What would have devastated many others, inspired Lee.
Kiatoukaysy believes Lee is a role model.
"I'm so proud of her to achieve her goals, dreams, and do it for the Hmong community," said Valentine Moua.
Moua coaches dance for a group of young women at the Hmong American Friendship Association. They say it is important for them to honor their heritage and to be proud to be part of the Hmong community.
"Lately we've been having a lot of crime against Asian [people], and I think her win is more than just a win," Kiatoukaysy said. "It’s a way to say that we are Americans too."