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'Sunisa Lee Represents All Of Us' – Fresno's Hmong Community Celebrates Gymnast's Olympic Gold

Geri Yang-Johnson via Zoom, Blong Xiong

Early Thursday morning, gymnast Sunisa Lee became the first Hmong American to win a gold medal for team USA. And just as her hometown community in Minnesota cheered her on, the San Joaquin Valley’s Hmong community was watching as well.

Geri Yang-Johnson of Fresno has never met Sunisa Lee, but as a fellow Hmong-American, she says Lee feels like a little sister. That’s why she got up at 3:45am on Thursday to watch Lee compete. “Sunisa Lee represents all of us,” she said. “All of Hmong America was up early this morning cheering her on, and cheering team USA on in gymnastics.”

Yang-Johnson says Lee has also been an inspiration for her 2-year-old daughter. “She wants the braid and the bun in the morning, she said she wants Sunisa hair, she’s going around telling people she’s in gymnastics even though she’s not,” she laughed.

Blong Xiong, Executive Director of the Asian Business Institute and Research Center in Fresno, says his phone has been blowing up all day with text messages and Facebook posts about Lee. 

“One of my staff was saying that her father was watching gymnastics,” he said. “He never watches gymnastics or the Olympics, so this was the first time that he’s paid attention.”

Fifteen years ago, Xiong himself made California history AS the state’s first city councilmember of Hmong descent when he was elected to the position in Fresno. 

“We’re obviously very proud of Lee, to see how far our community has come from being here in this country, coming here a little over 40 years ago as a refugee community,” he said.

Eighteen-year-old Sunisa Lee is the first Hmong-American to ever make the U.S. Olympic team. She earned gold as top all-around gymnast for her performance in a floor routine as well as on the vault, uneven bars, and balance beam.


Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.