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Son of Atlanta spa shooting victim profiled in new documentary aimed at ending Asian hate

The 2021 Atlanta spa shootings are the backdrop of a new documentary aimed at highlighting and eliminating anti-Asian hate.

ATLANTA — Sitting in front of a camera, Robert Peterson recounts the frantic moments in March of 2021, as he tried to discover details about his mom.

“I remember calling the sheriff’s office trying to identify the women. I don’t think some of them believed it was my mother. They were like, these are Asian women and I was like yes, my mother is Asian," said Peterson, who is biracial.

His brother called him for an update, and it was the worst possible news he would have to share.

“At that point, I had just gotten off the phone with the medical examiner and she told me, 'Yes they did have a body downtown of a woman named Yong Yue.' That was my mother,” he recalled. 

Peterson recounts his pain in a new documentary, Rising Against Asian Hate, which highlights the tragedies the Asian community’s experienced lately, including the 2021 spa shootings in Atlanta.

In a teaser video shared with 11Alive, several social media videos showcase vile words, vicious attacks, and murderous intentions; years of hatred geared toward Asian Americans.

"It's really hard to talk about this topic, you know, and I think, for those people who really are willing to be honest and candid with me, it's just been really, really wonderful," said the film's director TiTi Yu.

Yu and her team went on a journey to document the mistreatment of Asian Americans, highlighted by the gruesome murders of eight people at spas in metro Atlanta.

"I wasn't surprised that it happened," Yu said. "There was almost inevitable that something like this would happen.”

Inevitable, Yu said, because of harmful stereotypes spanning from the age of Pearl Harbor to the pandemic.

"We had elected officials calling the virus, 'Kung Flu', you know, 'China virus' and things like that. We started seeing a lot of these videos of Asian American elderly, and women being attacked on the street, and we started seeing these videos coming through our social media,” Yu said. 

Social media is how Yu, living in New York, learned of the Atlanta spa murders. Besides Peterson, the daughter of Vicha Ratanapakdee also shares her story. Ratanapakdee was an 84-year-old man who died after being attacked in San Francisco.

"People grieve in very different ways. I think people really wanted to tell their story," Yu said.

Those stories gave her a purpose and expose decades of anti-Asian hate. And unfortunately, Yu found far too many examples as hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 339 percent in 2021.

"What that says to me that, you know, things are not going to get better,” Yu said.

Not unless she gives a voice to the voiceless, showcase how differences really make people the same, and share how all Americans can rise against hate.

“There's a lot of those little moments that are very, that's unique to the Asian American experience, and the immigrant experience that I wanted to capture and I wanted people to see; what the Asian experience has been for the last three years. I hope that people can empathize and really see the Asian American community,” Yu said.

The documentary premiers on PBS on Oct.17 at 9 p.m. and on the PBS YouTube channel.

Narrated by Sandra Oh, the film also features interviews with Stacey Abrams, and Georgia representatives Bee Nguyen and Samuel Park.

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