Robert Peterson’s remembers his mother, who died in an infamous attack last year on Atlanta-area spas, as a hardworking person taken from her family “when we needed her the most.”
A year ago this week, on March 16, 2021, eight people were killed – including six of Asian descent – in the attacks. Four of the victims were Korean.
“My mom was more than her ethnicity, she was more than her job and she was more than the way she was killed,” Peterson said of his mother, Yong Yue. “Someone said this pain would go away. But to be honest, it has not.”
Peterson spoke at a remembrance event by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and Asian American Advocacy Fund on Saturday. The event shed a light on the rise of Asian hate crimes in the past year and commemorated the lives lost in the Atlanta spa shootings.
Those killed included Paul Michels, 54; Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; and Delaina Yaun, 33. As well as Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; and Yong Ae Yue, 63.
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The crowd, many wearing “Anti-Asian hate” masks and beanies that said “Asian AF”, cried and cheered as community leaders called for unity among minority groups and a stop to violence.
The event was held near the Young Girls Peace Monument in Brookhaven, Georgia, that honors “the 200,000+ girls and women, known as ‘comfort women,’ who were sexually enslaved throughout Asia during World War II,” according to Council Member John Park. One by one attendees placed a single flower next to the statue, said a prayer, and bowed in respect.
“To have an event remembering the deaths of Asian Americans near a statue that also means so much was beyond emotional,” Jamie Chou told USA TODAY. “People bowed, they raised and they hoped for a better year.”
Soyoung Yun, a Korean American mental health specialist, recalled that before the shooting, she grew accustomed to ignoring or dismissing microaggressions and “lived in a state of denial.” She never imagined it would lead to such violence until the night of March 16.
Yun said she believes the world remains a scary place for Asian Americans and that their mental health has taken a toll.
“The violence afflicted is not new but the frequency has been alarming and it takes a toll on our well being,” Yun said.
Anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339 percent last year compared to the year before, according to data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Erick Allen, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, called the rise in anti-Asian hate an “epidemic” and vowed to continue spreading awareness.
“Sometimes people don’t feel things until they happen to them and they’ve happened to us, Black, Latinx and Asian communities. So this compels us to be an ally and continue spreading awareness,” Allen told USA TODAY.
In the year since the shooting, Atlanta has become the epicenter for Asian American “grief, healing and resistance,” Deepa Iyer, a South Asian American lawyer and writer said during the event. The statement was made evident as attendees shared stories of their own encounters with racism and violence.
Sherry Li told a colleague in the crowd about a man she said pushed her to the ground while on a train in Atlanta.
“He pushed me and said thanks for coronavirus and sat back down. As if it was nothing,” Li told USA TODAY. “I’m here at this event because anti-Asian hate is real and dangerous and we won’t forget what happened.”
After many tragedies, Americans say “I share in your pain,” but Phi Nguyen, executive director of AAAJ, said she prefers a Vietnamese phrase. The phrase, roughly translated, means “divide sadness.”
“I prefer this expression because I love the idea of not sharing but dividing the pain into smaller pieces so we each have a smaller load,” Nguyen said. “Which is what this event is about, coming together to share our pain but also our healing as a community.”
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Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism