Asian American and Pacific Islander athletes have impacted their community immensely. As May celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, the purpose of this article is to appreciate the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to our country.
A big part of our appreciation comes from sports, where Asian Americans and Pacific Islander athletes inspire us to represent our own culture(s) and communities. To give recognition, we chose to spotlight a few influential, strong, and fearless athletes.
Sunisa (Suni) Lee
Sunisa Lee is a 19 year old gymnast for the U.S. National Gymnastics Team. Sunisa was born in the U.S, but her mother immigrated to the U.S from Laos as a child. Her father, also from Laos, came to America with his family (also as a young boy). Suni began gymnastics in 2009, when she was only 6 years old. She goes to Auburn College and will graduate in 2025. Suni is an inspiration for young gymnasts showing them that anything is possible, and it is possible to win a gold medal in the Olympics as a teenager.
Sunisa participated in the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo and won gold in the “all-around” competition. She set the bar high for her teammates and is a valuable member to the USA National Gymnastics Team. Suni is also the first Hmong-American to make the US Olympics Team (her father is of Hmong descent).
As a hard-worker, and persevering female, Suni balances college and professional gymnastics. She is a role model for future gymnasts on the National Team. During the Olympics Suni said, “Right now, I’m just trying to compete for everybody, for the Hmong community, my dad and my family, I want them to be proud of me.”
2. Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim is a 22 year old professional snowboarder for the U.S. Chloe speaks fluent Korean, and her parents were first-generation South Korean immigrants to the U.S. She started snowboarding around the age of 4 and has been snowboarding for 18 years now.
Chloe is a two-time gold medalist in the Olympics, and won by a large range. She won the 2016 ESPYS award and was the youngest woman to win the Olympics for the halfpipe event at 17 years old. Chloe is also the first athlete to ever win all four major snowboarding titles: Olympics, X Games, Youth Olympics, and Worlds.
While Chloe’s talent is unlike anyone on and off the team, she is also confident and is always smiling, no matter how she performs. As Chloe says, “The one thing I’ve learned is to just give everything a shot. You don’t want to live in regret.”
3. Tilali Scanlan
Tilali Scanlan is a 22 year old professional swimmer for American Samoa. American Samoa is an island near Samoa and is part of the U.S. Tilali’s parents are both Polynesian/Samoan and she has lived in American Samoa for her whole life. Scanlan has been swimming since she was 8 years old and it has been 14 years.
Tilali participated in her first Olympics during the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. She swam in the Women’s 100 Meter Breaststroke. Scanlan swims for The Dolphin Swim Club (Fiji), The American Samoan Swimming Federation, Stingrays Swimming Club – Suva, and Paluan Swimming Federation. Tilali first started swimming for the American Samoan Swimming Federation when she was 8 years old.
Tilali is currently ranked number one in American Samoa and has been at that rank for a little more than a year. She is predicted to be a gold medalist in future Olympics and a world champion swimmer. Scanlan is an inspiration for younger girls on her island, and is a strong and confident female.
4. Natasha (Tasha) Kai
Tasha Kai is a 38 year old professional soccer player for the U.S. She was born in Kahuku Hawaii and went to college at the University of Hawaii. Kai’s parents are both from Kahuku Oahu in Hawaii, and Tasha lived there during her childhood.
Natasha was the first Hawaiian to ever play on the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team. She started playing with the USWNT in February 2006. Kai also played in the Beijing Olympics and was a gold-medalist. Tasha has won three player of the year awards and First-Team All Conference Honors.
Tasha Kai also played for Sky Blue Soccer Club and helped the team win a championship. She made a big impact on the soccer club, leading them to numerous victories, where she eventually was named an All-Star.
Although Kai is currently considered “retired”, she has been found locally coaching Albion SC. She made a big influence on the young Hawaiian soccer players and was loved by many fans. According to Kai, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she will conquer the world.”
All four athletes are role models for current upcoming athletes. Asian American and Pacific Islander athletes all play a big part and give something unique to the sports world. Even though lots of these athletes get little recognition because of how few there are, they play a big role in giving to our community. Because of these athletes, we all look to play more confidently, stronger, and harder.