The current Auburn gymnast and her girlfriends, all of Asian descent, were waiting for a ride one night when a car came speeding by, yelling racist slurs at the group and telling them to "go back to where they came from." One of the passengers then sprayed Lee's arm with pepper spray.
"I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off," she told Popsugar. "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."
Attacks against Asian Americans have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that has worked to address anti-Asian hate throughout the globe pandemic, has documented over 9,000 anti-Asian hate incidents in the United States from March 19, 2020 to June 30, 2021. Over 4,000 of those reports occurred in the first six months of 2021 alone.
The first-generation Hmong American brought home silver in the team final. She went on to snag gold in the women's all-around competition and a bronze on the uneven bars.
"As the first Hmong American Olympian, Suni has an impact that extends far beyond any border or sport—it signifies representation," Nastia Liukin, a five-time Olympic medalist, wrote. "This milestone has and will continue to inspire the Hmong community, but it also sends a simple yet powerful message to underrepresented people everywhere: Dream big because anything is possible."