Michelle Li, a Korean American news anchor for NBC affiliate KSDK in St. Louis, was surprised to find herself in the middle of a social media controversy when a viewer’s response to her broadcast got the ‘Very Asian hashtag’ trending on Twitter.

Going on-air for New Year’s Day in St. Louis, Michelle Li started a non-offensive segment about food, sharing that black-eyed peas, pork, greens and cornbread were all traditional New Year’s food associated with bringing good luck.

Li then added, “I ate dumplings, too,” personalizing the broadcast and stating that, “That’s what a lot of Korean people do.”

In a voice message left to the KSDK news station in St. Louis afterward, an unnamed viewer reportedly said that they took offense to the broadcast, which they called un-American.

“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.”

A video on Twitter of Michelle Li listening to the voice message has since amassed over 3 million views and 13,000 retweets, garnering national attention.

She told the viewer that she was willing to have a “heartfelt conversation” about the subject with them, and that she added the bit about her eating dumplings to communicate different experiences outside of their own.

“I don’t think that one person gets to define what American means,” Li told NBC News. “We have different experiences and we have shared experiences and all of them should be respected.”

Michelle Li listening to the viewer's racist racist comments, which inspired the very asian hashtag'
Michelle Li listening to the viewer’s racist comments, which inspired the very Asian hashtag.’ Photo Credit: Twitter

The #VeryAsian hashtag has since been removed, though not before it made the rounds from comedians and others supporting Michelle Li in an effort to take back its racist beginnings.

“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,” Li said after the post went viral with millions of views.

“It just felt really like this racist, ugly phone call ended up being a real gift,” Michelle Li stated.

Celebrities and comedians like Margaret Cho reached out in support, asking Michelle Li to give them the phone number of the viewer so they can fight on her behalf.

“if they’re mad that we eat dumpling soup on New Year’s, wait until they hear that we celebrate two New Year’s #VeryAsian,” wrote Isaac K. Lee, a music producer for The Ringer‘s “Binge Mode” podcast.

Andy Kim, a congressman in New Jersey, also shared a photo of his two sons making dumplings on New Year’s Day, commenting, “I was being #VeryAsian with my boys by making dumplings!”

Michelle Li also spoke to NBC News about the surge of Asian hate crimes that hit America after Covid-19 pandemic fears stoked racism for the Chinese, calling it “scary in many ways.”

“I still am very cautious about where I go and who I’m with and I hate that,” Li said, “that I’ve had to change my behavior based on the actions of others.”

Last month, the NYPD reported a 361% increase from last year of incidents racially targeting Asian Americans, which they expect to climb ever higher thanks to more accurate reporting due to increased awareness.

Luckily, the news station has stood by its anchor, releasing a statement affirming that “At KSDK, we embrace diversity in the people we hire, the stories we tell, and our local community.”

“We will continue supporting Michelle,” KSDK in St. Louis said, as well as “celebrating diversity and inclusion.”