Former News 3 Now anchor turns ‘very Asian’ criticism into empowering movement

ST. LOUIS — Broadcast journalists are used to getting negative comments from viewers when it comes to what we say, how we talk, and even how we look.

Former News 3 Now news anchor Michelle Li knows that too well, but one phone message in particular went too far: a caller criticized her for being “very Asian.” Li is standing up for herself. The response she’s getting and how this moment is becoming a movement are things she never expected.

“My favorite dumpling of all time came from Madison, Wisconsin,” Li said in a Zoom interview.

You can always count on her a good food recommendation.

That dumpling came from Paul’s Pel’meni just off State Street.

“So, it’s a really tiny place. I would always get; they kind of look like this,” Li said, holding up a photo with enthusiasm.

Whether it’s on TV or social media, she always shares what she loves. It’s just who she is.

That’s what the anchorwoman for KSDK-TV in St. Louis was doing on TV when she said she ate dumplings on New Year’s Day and how it’s part of her Korean heritage. Then she listened to a voice message from a viewer.

“This evening, your Asian anchor mentioned something about being Asian and Asian people eat dumplings on New Year’s Day. 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.” the viewer said. “She can keep her Korean to herself. All right, sorry. It was annoying.”

Li played a video on social media of her listening to this message. She kept a brave face but admits it got to her later.

“I just started tearing up,” Li said.

A video of the voicemail Li shared on Twitter has since gone viral, raking in more than 3.7 million views as of Friday afternoon.

Brady: “When people hear what racism is, I think they think about the big strokes of it. But someone calling and telling a person, don’t be who you are, or tone it down; that’s still racism. Do you think that is still something the nation is addressing, or maybe not even knowing how much of that exists?”

Li: “Well, sure. That was the thing that got to me too. ‘She seems very Asian’ and ‘she needs to keep her Korean to herself.’ It’s just, well, what does that even mean? How do I even do that? And don’t you think I’ve already muted a lot of who I am for people?”

When Li tweeted about this message, she used the hashtag “VeryAsian,” It went viral. Others used #VeryAsian to support Li and talk about their own Asian heritage. It’s become a sort of movement empowering the Asian-Pacific Islander community.

“It’s a gift to a lot of people in the world who felt compelled to respond to it and share some of their traditions and feel pride in who they are,” Li said.

Li and Minneapolis news anchor Gia Vang launched a pop-up shop selling merchandise with the logo “#VeryAsian” and will donate the money to the Asian American Journalists Association.

Brady: “To turn a negative into a positive and to use it for good, I think that’s your superpower. What would you say to this woman? This woman who called?”

Li: “Oh! I talked to her!”

Brady: “What happened?!”

The two talked on the phone.

“She apologized and I accepted, and we said we would meet one day,” Li said.

Li was just talking about food, and it led to a bad situation which she’s now using to help others. It’s proof you can always count on her to respond to hate by sharing love. It’s just who she is.

“I hope that, like, in this situation, I really hope young people can say, ‘that spoke to me,’ because I should be proud of who I am for exactly how I am,” Li said.