An Asian American news anchor is going viral after she shared a viewer's complaint that she should "keep her Korean to herself" after mentioning that she eats dumpling soup to mark the new year.
Michelle Li, who works for the NBC affiliate KSDK in St. Louis, Mo., mentioned that "a lot of Korean people" eat dumpling soup in a New Year's Day segment featuring food traditions thought to bring luck, such as greens and black-eyed peas. In doing so, Li, who is of Korean descent and raised by white adoptive parents, drew the ire of one woman who accused her of being "very Asian."
In a social media post shared by Li, the TV personality listens as the offended viewer lodges her complaint about the dumpling soup reference.
"This evening your Asian anchor mentioned something about being Asian, and Asian people eat dumplings on New Year's Day," the caller said. "And I kind of take offense to that because what if one of your white anchors said, 'Well white people eat this on New Year's Day.' I don't think it was very appropriate that she said that, and she was being very Asian. I don't know. She can keep her Korean to herself. Alright, sorry. It was annoying. Because, if a white person would say that, they would get fired. So, say something about what white people eat. Alright, thank you."
"I'd love to say something back," Li said of the call, which prompted her to change her online bio to "VERY ASIAN" — a term now going viral, with the likes of actor George Takei, comedian Margaret Cho and Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston offering their support.
In an op-ed published by KSDK on Sunday, Li noted that her mention of dumpling soup initially drew praise from viewers, who thanked her for offering some diverse representation. She also shared why she decided to ab lib the line about the Korean tradition.
"When I read that story, I thought I'd just add a little line because who gets to define American culture these days?" Li wrote. "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."
She added, "On the dumpling issue alone, all cultures seem to have a dumpling — anyone ever had a pierogi or a pelmeni? And who doesn't like those?"
Though she called the viewer's message "racist, bigoted and wrong," the journalist noted that she doesn't "begrudge someone for having an opinion," adding, "what she said turned out to be a gift."
"I have loved seeing so many people share their family pictures and stories on social media," Li explained. "There is more good than bad."
She also shared that, if given the chance to speak with the caller, she "would say thank you. Thank you for giving me the motivation to be #ExtraAsian."
Li continued, "We are all just people trying to exist. If I had the chance to actually speak to this woman, I would love to have a heartfelt conversation with her — maybe we could do it over a bowl of dumplings. In St. Louis, there are a lot of great options."
Li — who also noted that receiving "negative viewer feedback" has "always been part of the job" — has the backing of her employer. In a statement issued by KSDK, the station said it "fully supports our excellent award-winning anchor/reporter Michelle Li."
It added, "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."
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