Olympic gymnast and Hmong American Sunisa Lee, who rose to fame this summer in Tokyo when she won gold in the individual women's all-around competition, said she was pepper-sprayed in a racist incident that occurred recently in Los Angeles.
Lee, 18, said she was waiting for an Uber with a group of friends who are also Asian American when a car drove by. The passengers inside shouted racial slurs and yelled at them to "go back to where they came from," she told the website PopSugar.
The Olympian also said that as the car drove by, someone in the vehicle sprayed her arm with pepper spray.
"I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off," Lee said in the interview with 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."
NPR reached out to Lee's agents for comment but didn't immediately hear back.
There have been thousands of attacks against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic; the virus was first detected in China. Over 9,000 hate incidents occurred between March 2020 and June 2021, according to the group Stop AAPI Hate.
In a recent survey from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 1 in 4 Asian Americans said they feared that members of their household would be attacked or threatened because of their race or ethnicity.