The hashtag “Very Asian” has taken off on Twitter after a viewer left a racist voice message for an Asian American news anchor who said that she ate dumplings in celebration of New Year’s Day.
Social media users began putting a positive spin on the practice after Michelle Li, who is Korean American and an anchor at NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis, shared traditional New Year's foods. She listed black-eyed peas, pork, greens and cornbread that are believed to bring good luck, adding: “I ate dumplings, too. That’s what a lot of Korean people do.”
A viewer complained about the segment that evening, stating that Li was being “very Asian.”
“I kind of take offense to that," the viewer said. "What if one of your white anchors said white people eat this on New Year’s Day. I don’t think it’s appropriate she said that. She’s being very Asian. She can keep her Korean to herself. If a white person said that, they would get fired.”
Since then, a video of Li listening to the voice message has gone viral, with more than 3 million views, 13,000 retweets and thousands of likes. In response to the tweet garnering national attention, Li said that she would like to have a “heartfelt conversation” with the viewer and that they could perhaps bridge this gap over a bowl of dumplings.
“I don’t think that one person gets to define what American means,” Li said. “We have different experiences and we have shared experiences and all of them should be respected.”
Li told NBC Asian America that she spoke about the dumplings to educate others about communities outside of their own. However, Li said she was shocked that the video spread so quickly.
“It became this really beautiful thing, where instead of this disheartening feeling that I had the night before, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, people are sharing pictures of their families and their happy New Year meals and they’re using this hashtag to say something, hashtag #VeryAsian, to show support and solidarity.'”
She added, “It just felt really like this racist, ugly phone call ended up being a real gift.”
In light of the viewer’s racist comments, dozens of journalists, activists and celebrities are rallying around Li.
Li pointed out that the viewer’s comments come amid record levels of violence targeting Asian Americans in the U.S.
“This climate has been really scary in many ways,” Li said. “I still am very cautious about where I go and who I’m with and I hate that — that I’ve had to change my behavior based on the actions of others.”
The news station is also supporting 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,” the station said in a statement. “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.”