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A viewer called to complain about me being 'very Asian' for talking about New Year's Day dumplings on TV

Michelle Li is a former KING 5 anchor who now works at KSDK in St. Louis.

SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — I've worked as a journalist for a little more than 20 years, and negative viewer feedback is nothing new. People love to tell you they don't like your hair, your voice, your skin color, your gender, your weight, your name, and the list goes on and on.

It can be bothersome at the very least, but most of us have developed scar tissue around how the public perceives us. Don't get me wrong, I have cried and lost sleep over many things I've taken in from people, but I know it's part of the job. It's always been part of the job. Women get it way worse than men. Have you ever seen an overweight, balding woman in the anchor chair? I'd love to support one if you know any.

Social media and email have made comments worse over the years because it's so easy. People who take the time to physically pen a letter and send it in the mail or look up a station phone number and leave a message are really going the extra mile to let you know they're mad as hell and need to speak to a manager.

And on New Year's Day, I got wrath from a woman who was upset that I ate dumpling soup, a tradition for many Koreans and Korean Americans. 

You can watch the clip here: 

What do you eat for New Year's?

Posted by Michelle Li on Saturday, January 1, 2022

It was a simple story — Americans eat greens for wealth, black eyed peas for luck, cornbread for gold, and pork for progress. And then at the end, I said, "I ate dumpling soup. That's what a lot of Korean people do." 

The whole television segment was less than 30 seconds.

I didn't think it amounted to much, but some people shared how it spoke to them:

One person tweeted, "Thank you for mentioning Asian New Year's traditions. We need to include more discussions that include diverse traditions because youth do "see you."

Another person posted on Facebook

"Thank you for the shout out to Asians eating filled dumplings for the New Year. My wife is from Korea and makes tteok mandu guk (sliced rice cake and dumpling soup). I look forward to it every time. This was our daughter's first time making it herself.

Have a blessed new year."

Those two comments excited me — that my one little ad-libbed line made an impact on people (none of whom were Korean, as if that matters.) I then posted the clip on instagram with a caption that said in part: 

"This is very subtle, but IYKYK... (if you know, you know)

It's not about being mad about the default, it's just saying, I see you in the back! Give me the noodles!"

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. 

One caller thought otherwise:

The woman said, "Hi, this evening your Asian anchor mentioned something about being Asian, and Asian people eat dumplings on New Year's Day. 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 (chuckles). So, say something about what white people eat. Alright, thank you."

The message was roughly a minute long — twice as long as the story itself, and about ten times as many sentences. 

I posted myself listening to the message, and apparently a few people noticed.

Gia Vang, a morning anchor at KARE 11 in Minneapolis shared what Hmong people eat on New Year's Day and used the hashtag #VeryAsian. The hashtag and tweet started getting traction overnight Saturday:

Social media users, authors, influencers, journalists, actors, and politicians started sharing the tweet along with their experiences with racism or their holiday traditions.

"Imagine walking around this world with these kinds of thoughts banging around in your head.  Bless you, Michelle…," Rex Chapman, former NBA player and social media influencer, tweeted.

Michelle Wu, the mayor of the City of Boston, retweeted me, saying they had dumplings for New Year's too.

KING 5 news anchor Mimi Jung tweeted she was angry about the voicemail and pulled dumplings out of the freezer to enjoy.

Even though #VeryAsian is having a moment on social media, I do want to say I don't begrudge someone for having an opinion, albeit one I think is racist, bigoted and wrong. 

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? 

Also, 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. There is more good than bad. 

Someone tweeted me something like, "Well, what would you say to her?" I can't find the tweet because so many have come and gone since then. But I responded with something like, "I would say thank you. Thank you for giving me the motivation to be #extraAsian."

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.

KSDK gave a statement, saying:

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.