Finally, <i>Public </i> Glory for Hmong Americans

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

It is just wonderful to see the emergence of the Hmong American teenager Sunisa “Suni” Lee as the women’s individual all-around gymnastics champion at the Tokyo Olympics. Brava. She’s obviously a magnificent athlete — and artist, noted because there is an artistic element to her sport. We don’t mind saying, though, that it’s also great to see the Hmong community into which Ms. Lee was born fetch up in the full glow of American glory.

They certainly deserve it, one of the points we’ve tried to nurse in these columns over the years. Our admiration stems from our sense of the heroism of the Hmong during the years when they were allied with America in the war against the communists in Laos and Vietnam. We ourselves encountered these tribesmen only glancingly, but it was enough to leave us with a grasp of how lucky America was to have them as allies.

We will never forget one encounter, after the American phase of the war, when the Wall Street Journal editorial board received a visit in New York from the legendary Hmong general, Vang Pao. He was dressed not in combat fatigues but rather a business suit. So it would be hard to tell, at a glance, his rank. Even in the circumstances, though, he exuded an indelible sense of authority and command — and dignity.

That’s what sticks with us from the moment, long after the details of the conversation have faded from our memory. Years later, in 2007, Vang Pao was arrested in California for allegedly plotting to attack the communist regime back in his homeland. Our own view, we wrote, was that if the U.S. wanted to know whether a communist headquarters in Laos should be attacked, the way to determine it would be to ask Vang Pao.

Eventually, the American government came to its senses and dropped all charges against Vang Pao. When, a decade ago, the general died, at 81, among his community at California, there was an effort to have him buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It would be hard, we wrote at the time, “to imagine more than a few whose burial at Arlington would add greater glory to the already sacred ground.” Sadly, it did not happen.

What a lift that would have given to the thousands of Hmong who made their way to freedom in America. For their heroism was, in a sense, a war secret. It’s not our intention to suggest that any link obtains between Vang Pao and America’s new Olympic superstar, Suni Lee. It is merely to illuminate why, at least to the Sun, it’s so doubly wonderful to see a Hmong American heroine bask in her own — and public — acclamation.

Back in May, Ms. Lee was quoted by as saying she didn’t know how to explain how “cool” it would be to show the world that the Hmong in America are more than what their detractors say. “It would be the greatest accomplishment of any Hmong person in the U.S. ever,” her father offered. Given all that the Hmong have done for America, let us just say, that’s saying something.

The New York Sun

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