“It was just unbelievable,” she said. “We just wanted to give her nice nails.”
Vang and Elizabeth Lee grew up in nail salons. Living in North Carolina with their Hmong American family, the cousins watched over Vang’s mom’s shoulders as she painted to perfection.
When she had too much on her plate, the girls would even help with small tasks like removing polish. As an adult, Vang realized that she shared that passion, and she wanted to make it hers. So she opened her own place: Little Luxuries Nail Lounge in Minnesota.
“Friends of the family would come over, and I would just sit there and polish their nails,” Vang said. “I kind of just trained myself.”
The decision for Suni Lee to keep her nails on during precarious floor and bar routines shocked some people online. But she said they help her grip the bar. In addition, “it’s good luck,” she said in an interview on Talkin’ Tokyo last week.
“Whenever I miss the bar, it hurts really bad, so it makes me catch the bar,” she said, referring to the square acrylic shape.
Suni became the first Hmong American to represent Team USA and the first Asian American woman to win gold in the Olympics’ all-around competition. Vang said that in a year that has been characterized by anti-Asian sentiment and violence, the win provides a little bit of light.
“She’s impacted the whole world,” Vang said. “Especially during a time like this with the anti-Asian hate going on, she made everything feel at peace. She’s just so perfect and so innocent and so pure, and she’s just what America needed right now in this moment.”
Vang and Elizabeth Lee say that they watch her with pride and that her win will help more people recognize and understand the Hmong community.
For children and families in her community, Vang knows Suni Lee will continue to inspire.
“It’s just so common in our community and in our culture for women to not really be able to follow their dreams or do the things they want to do,” Vang said. “She made her dreams come true.”