Opening Bell

Catching up with Michelle Li

Very Asian co-founder remains a fan of Seattle

By Rob Smith January 23, 2024

Michelle Li

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Michelle Li lives and works in St. Louis now, but the former KING-5 broadcaster will always consider Seattle a second home.

Li famously created the Very Asian Foundation after a viewer in St. Louis left a racist voicemail telling her to “keep her Korean to herself” and accusing her of being “very Asian” after she mentioned on-air that she enjoyed eating traditional Korean dumpling soup as part of a New Year’s tradition.

She shared that voicemail, and it went viral around the world. She wound up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show after selling “Very Asian” shirts to raise money for the nonprofit Asian American Journalists Association.

“I thought I was going to lose my job (at KSDK-TV in St. Louis). I was so nervous,” she recalls. “When it went viral, I got really scared and totally panicked. I had no idea it would grow into something like this.”

Li remains heavily involved with the foundation, which she co-founded with fellow journalist Gia Vang. It seeks to highlight Asian experiences through “advocacy and celebration.” The foundation has launched a national awareness youth literature campaign called The May Book Project, and started the Very Asian Creators micro-grant program.

Recent activities include honoring St. Louis residents at Asian American Pacific Islanders Theme Night at a St. Louis Cardinals game, and the Very Asian Sunday Funday Benefit Luncheon in Seattle.

Li, a Kansas native who has a Midwest sensibility, has a particular fondness for Seattle, where she spent five years as an anchor at KING-5. She returned to the Midwest in 2021 to be closer to family during the pandemic.

“There’s just a vibe in Seattle that feel like everyone is working to take a step forward to make not only Seattle a better place, but the world,” says Li, who was recently honored with a National Inspire Award from the National Association of Asian American Professionals. “Just progressive, smart people who have a conscience and who want to do the right thing.”

Li, who was adopted by white parents at 3 months old, says being adopted is a “huge part of my identity.” She has been involved with several adoption organizations, including as a baby escort, where she has volunteered to go to Korea with adoptive families to advocate for adoptees.

The name of her foundation, “Very Asian,” has a specific meaning to her.

“It’s just really about living your true self and being able to bring your full humanity,” she says. “So many people don’t have their stories told. We all have experiences that matter, and we all deserve to build our community and be who we are.”

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