A Missouri news anchor is going viral after she got a voicemail from a viewer complaining that Li had mentioned eating dumpling soup as a Korean American celebrating the New Year.
"I ate dumpling soup, that's what a lot of Korean people do," she mentioned at the end of the story.
In an interview with TODAY Food, Li explained that she had intentionally added a line to be more inclusive. (It's worth noting this reporter is friends with Li.)
"The first time I read that (story at 5 p.m.), I was like, 'Are those like, American traditions? Because those seem very Southern,'" she explained. "And, you know, I just don't remember having those traditions."
She said she got two nice comments from viewers who were grateful that she'd mentioned her culture on-air … and then she got the phone call.
"Hi, this evening your Asian anchor mentioned something about being Asian and Asian people eat dumplings on New Year's Day and, um, 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?" the viewer said, in part. "I don't think it was appropriate that she said that and she's being very Asian and I don't know …
"She can keep her Korean to herself."
Li was surprised but not shocked to get such a call. She was adopted as a child from South Korea by two white parents and raised in the St. Louis area. She recently moved back to be closer to her father after her mother died.
"It's good to be back because we have family," she said. "But like, it's definitely been a just a change, I think, being an Asian person in the Midwest again. Like, 'Oh, I forgot. Yeah.'"
Li previously worked at NBC affiliate KING of Seattle.
"The truth is, you know, I mean, there are people who are getting assaulted and worse," she said, referring to the ongoing attacks against Asian people across the U.S. "So, I, you know, I am fully aware that like, this is little, you know, but I think it if you have the audacity to really feel that way and call in and make the effort to call in … like, she made the effort to find the number and call in you know? She really wanted to be heard."
After thinking about it for a while, she decided to share the voicemail on social media.
"I’d love to say something back," Li tweeted on Jan. 1, tagging several news outlets and Asian journalists (including this reporter).
Her video went viral on Sunday and the response to the story has been overwhelming, Li said.
Former NBA player and social media influencer Rex Chapman responded.
"Imagine walking around this world with these kinds of thoughts banging around in your head," he wrote, in part. "Bless you, Michelle…"
Kansas City-based educator and KSHB senior investigative editor Ryan Takeo also voiced his support for Li.
Cookbook author and fellow journalist Hsiao-Ching Chou replied as well, with a story about her own experiences.
"20 years ago, a reader sent the publisher of my newspaper a letter criticizing my article on tea, calling me a fortune cookie, and saying they should’ve hired an American," she said. "This sh*t doesn’t stop. @MichelleLiTV, do say something. Dumpling posse has got your back. 🥟 #VeryAsian"
Food blogger Joanne Molinaro aka The Korean Vegan said she was inspired by Li's video to make a response as well.
"It's when you have the audacity to be true to yourself...in public that they feel threatened," she said. "We're not going to pretend that we eat meatloaf and green beans on New Year's Day...
"We're not gonna let them make us feel ashamed of who we are, nor are we going to be complicit to our own erasure — no, f--- them for trying to make us invisible."
Li pointed out that "like every culture has dumplings," and added that she hopes the angry viewer does some self-reflection.
"Just because we're including other people doesn't mean you are excluded," she explained.
Li said she's also heard from a lot of local movers and shakers about the phone call.
"I do really love the Midwest — it's a great place to live and build a community," she said. "You know, things have been interesting since I've gotten back. But I wouldn't change it. This is the best place for us.
"Just people, I think, just are still coming around."
She's excited to see where the hashtag #VeryAsian goes — as of Jan. 4, it had taken off with hundreds of messages of support — and she later launched a line of "Very Asian" merchandise that will benefit Asian American Journalists Association. (Disclaimer: This reporter is a member of AAJA.)
Li also plans to call the woman back to invite her to get dumplings together.
"Maybe we can call it a segment, 'Dumplings with Michelle,' or something," she quipped.