Gia Vang wants students in St. Paul to see the books in their school libraries as windows into their world and mirrors that reflect their experiences.

That's why the former KARE-11 anchor and St. Louis-based news anchor Michelle Li delivered a box of 70 books by Asian authors to Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet School on Tuesday.

"I didn't know I needed this community until I got here," said Vang, who started at the local NBC affiliate in 2019. "When I moved here, I wanted to be more in touch with my Hmongness. I wanted to lean into it more, and I didn't know what that looked like yet."

When Vang moved to St. Paul, the Hmong community welcomed her with open arms, she said. She was hired away by KNTV, the Bay Area NBC affiliate, last July. But the sisterhood Vang discovered in the Twin Cities made St. Paul an essential stop for the May Book Project, the donation event she and Li are promoting.

Among the titles Vang and Li delivered to Phalen Lake's second- and third-graders were "Eyes That Kiss in the Corners" by Joanna Ho and Andrea Wang's "Watercress," which Vang read aloud to the students.

Wang's story follows a Chinese-American girl as her family collects and cooks the titular vegetable as they drive through rural Ohio. The book explores the family's culinary tradition, which Vang and Li used as a starting point to discuss how they co-founded the nonprofit called Very Asian Foundation.

"Has anyone ever said something that was hurtful to you?" Li asked the students, the majority of whom who replied, "Yes."

When Li reported a New Year's Day segment and mentioned eating dumplings for the holiday, a viewer called in to say the spot was "inappropriate" and called it "very Asian."

Li shared the voicemail on Twitter soon after. The response led to an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show". The host presented Li with a check for $15,000, which became seed money for the nonprofit.

Vang told the students she and Li think it's important to see Asian characters and stories in books.

"It's really important that you can see yourself," she said.