The holidays are a time for us to come together, whether through bonding over mutual traditions or sharing unique ones and learning from each other.
So, many were shocked to find out that a Korean-American news anchor is receiving hate from viewers solely for mentioning her own traditions live on television.
In a news segment for New Year’s Day, journalist and news anchor Michelle Li for NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis shared how some traditionally “American” foods for New Year’s symbolize good luck. For example, greens represent “wealth,” black-eyed peas also represent money, cornbread represents “gold,” and pork represents “prosperity and progress.”
Likewise, in Asian traditions, dumplings are eaten for New Year’s for the same reason. This food can also represent wealth.
With a history of more than 1,800 years, dumpling (饺子 Jiǎozi /jyaoww-dzrr/) is a classic lucky food for Lunar New Year and a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve, widely popular in China, especially in North China.
Chinese dumplings can be made to look like Chinese silver ingots (which are not bars, but boat-shaped, oval, and turned up at the two ends). Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year.
— China Highlights
So, Li casually threw on at the end of her segment that, since she’s Korean, she eats dumpling soup as she celebrates the New Year. Li said on air, “I ate dumpling soup. That’s what a lot of Korean people do.”
Here’s what I notice as a journalist:
When we say ‘Americans eat this or that on New Year’s Day’… what does that mean?
Is there a default ‘American’?
This is very subtle, but IYKYK…
It’s not about being mad about the default, it’s just saying, I see you in the back! Give me the noodles!
— Michelle Li
She added on Twitter that “representation matters.” It’s true that while cornbread is delicious and popular, it’s not a traditional food for all Americans.
— Michelle (@MichelleLiTV) January 2, 2022
Many viewers, especially among the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, commended her for representing the culture.
@MichelleLiTV Thank you for mentioning Asian New Year's traditions. We need to include more discussions that include diverse traditions because youth do "see you."
— MBowman, BS & MAT Bio (@MBowmanScience) January 1, 2022
Yet, she still managed to receive backlash from viewers. There was one particular viewer who left a hateful and racially-motivated call upon watching the New Year’s segment, criticizing Li for mentioning her own traditions.
This evening, your Asian anchor mentioned something about being Asian and Asian people eat dumplings on New Year’s Day…
The viewer admitted that they were offended due to Li’s brief comment on dumplings. The reason was basically that she got offended on behalf of “white people” and even said that Li was “being very Asian” and suggested the anchor “keep her Korean to herself.”
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 appropriate that she said that and she’s being very Asian, and I don’t know… She can keep her Korean to herself.
The viewer said that if Li were to mention what Koreans eat for New Year’s Day, what “white people” eat should also be mentioned. But if you watch Li’s original entire segment, it’s about what Americans traditionally eat for the holiday.
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.
Many of the foods mentioned are not only mainly eaten by white and black Americans but are originated in the Southern United States. However, some of these foods, such as cornbread, have origins in Indigenous cuisine.
Li shared her reaction to the racist call, clearly in disbelief over what she was hearing. It was even twice as long as Li’s entire news segment. She captioned the post on Instagram, “We should all be given a chance to bring our full humanity to the table.”
On Twitter, she expressed a desire to “say something back.”
I’d love to say something back. pic.twitter.com/zrXgiwQbR9
— Michelle (@MichelleLiTV) January 2, 2022
Since posting, Li has been met with more love than hate. She has received a tremendous amount of comments, supporting her.
It looks like Li won’t have to be concerned about responding to the viewer now as many are doing it on her behalf, including celebrities.
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) January 2, 2022
Li’s video has gone viral now across multiple social media platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Content creators, fellow journalists, actors, influencers, authors, and politicians are attempting to spread awareness on Asian hate and represent pride in their identity by trending “#VeryAsian” online.
Thank you. Trying to keep bringing awareness with #VeryAsian
— Michelle (@MichelleLiTV) January 4, 2022
On New Year’s day Chinese people eat noodles to celebrate longevity, dumplings for prosperity, and whole fish as a hope for abundance, to name a few. It is a joy to learn about traditions in other cultures.
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) January 2, 2022
My husband is #VeryAsian and I’m #VeryBlack
For New Years, his family eats pancit. For New Years, my grandmother insists we (POC) must eat black eyed peas & greens. So we made it all! Cultural differences are beautiful & should be celebrated!
Hope you enjoyed your dumplings! pic.twitter.com/YXMzctgYZT
— Monica S. Blake-Beasley (@TheRealMSBlake) January 2, 2022
Author, blogger, and attorney Joanne Lee Molinaro (The Korean Vegan) shared her own reaction to the racist call. She posted a video where she made her own dumplings while giving a moving speech on AAPI erasure.
Since her video went viral, Li wrote a piece for KSDK, explaining why she mentioned dumpling soup in the first place. She revealed that she hadn’t always been exposed to her own cultural traditions, so representation is important.
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.
— Michelle Li
She didn’t think much of the comment at the time. Li just wanted to acknowledge that mixed families have diversity in their life, including holiday traditions.
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.
— Michelle Li
While a short comment on live TV received criticism from viewers, it also got tons of support and has inspired a whole social movement. In her reflection, Li shared that now if she could speak to the woman who called her directly, she would hope only for a “heartfelt conversation … over a bowl of dumplings.”
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.
— Michelle Li
Additionally, KSDK has been especially supportive of Michelle Li. Not only did they give her the platform to publish an article responding to the viewer’s criticism, but they encouraged her to remain true to herself.
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.
Read more about the “Stop Asian Hate” movement below: