The viewer also complained that Li was given special treatment; she felt as though white anchors who mentioned foods they liked to eat on the holiday would have instead been fired.
Li’s comment came after reading a story about classic foods Americans eat on New Year’s Day. She shared that, like “a lot of Korean people do,” she had eaten dumpling soup. The remark was intended to make the segment inclusive.
“The first time I read that (story at 5 PM), I was like, ‘Are those like, American traditions? Because those seem very Southern,’” Li said in an interview with TODAY Food, “And, you know, I just don’t remember having those traditions.”
Li told TODAY Food that while she initially was not going to share the voicemail, she thought about it for a while and decided it needed to be heard.
“I’d love to say something back,” Li tweeted on Jan. 1.
The clip quickly went viral, with many viewers reclaiming the comment meant to insult Li by making it a hashtag, #VeryAsian, and sharing stories of what they do to display their identity.
Li further explained why she shared what she ate in an article for KSDK News:
The reason I said that is because I am an Asian American, and I am of Korean descent. I grew up in Missouri, and I was raised by white parents. I reconnected with my Korean family in 1998, and I’ve been incorporating Korean culture in my life since.
So, like many American families, we do a mix of traditions, if any at all. As I was looking at my own social media feeds, I saw a lot of my friends eating a mix of foods and playing games—Korean dumpling soup, Chinese noodles, collards, and so forth. And since I have a son who is mixed race, I feel it’s important to expose him to Korean culture in our every day lives.
When I read that story, I thought I’d just add a little line, because who gets to define American culture these days? I’m American. My friends are American. And even growing up in Missouri, I didn’t grow up eating collards, cornbread, or pork for New Year’s. My sister-in-law actually said she grew up eating pickled herring. We all have different and shared experiences.
My point is, I thought it was important for me to mention a little line as banter, but I didn’t think it was a big deal.
Li also noted that the viewer’s comments come amid record levels of violence targeting Asian Americans in the U.S.
According to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of organizations dedicated to addressing anti-Asian discrimination, at least 10,370 incidents of anti-Asian bias have been reported from Mar. 19, 2020, to Sept. 30. This data comes alongside others, confirming a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Last month, data by the FBI found that hate crime reports actually rose by 76% in 2020.
“This climate has been really scary in many ways,” Li said. “I still am very cautious about where I go and who I’m with and I hate that — that I’ve had to change my behavior based on the actions of others.”
But while some few were “offended” by her attempt at being inclusive and American— because America is full of different cultures— others were proud and grateful of her mention.
And not to mention Li also had the support of her station.
“KSDK fully supports our excellent award-winning anchor/reporter Michelle Li. A viewer advised Michelle to ‘keep her Korean to herself’ when Michelle ad-libbed during a newscast about the Korean tradition of eating dumpling soup for good luck on New Year’s Day. At KSDK, we embrace diversity in the people we hire, the stories we tell and our local community. We will continue supporting Michelle and celebrating diversity and inclusion.”
From local viewers to celebrities, people came together to support Li and share their own stories on social media. One viewer’s hate helped start a movement.
In conversation with NBC Asian America, Li said she was very shocked at how quickly she garnered a response from individuals after posting the video.
“It became this really beautiful thing, where instead of this disheartening feeling that I had the night before, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, people are sharing pictures of their families and their happy New Year meals, and they’re using this hashtag to say something, hashtag #VeryAsian, to show support and solidarity.’”
“It just felt really like this racist, ugly phone call ended up being a real gift,” she added.
Li told TODAY Food that she is very excited to see where the hashtag #VeryAsian goes and plans to call the woman who left her a voicemail back to invite her to get dumplings together.
“Maybe we can call it a segment, ‘Dumplings with Michelle,’ or something,” she laughed.
She even changed both her Twitter and Instagram bios to read “VERY ASIAN.”
Honestly, I am here for it. I am super-Asian and had chicken over rice on New Year’s Day— yes, with both the RED and WHITE sauce. But I do wish I had had dumplings.
Americans eat all types of foods. What did you eat for New Year? Share your food pics and favorite recipes! I’d love to try them.