Biracial Sons of Atlanta Spa Shooting Victim Hope to Unite Black and Asian Communities in Fight Against Hate and Racism

Robert Peterson sits for a portrait outside of the home of his late mother, Yong Ae Yue, in Norcross, Ga. Yue was shot and killed in an Atlanta-area spa earlier this year. (Melissa Alexander for The Washington Post)

In the months after his mother was shot and killed at an Atlanta-area spa, Robert Peterson was contacted by Young Bae, a celebrity tattoo artist whose son, like Peterson and his brother, is half-Black and half-Korean. She offered him a free tattoo to memorialize his mom.

Peterson, 39, opted for something positive and a little silly, just like his mom: a boiling stone pot of kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew, alongside her name: Yong Ae Yue.

“My mother would laugh at that and say it’s stupid, but that’s the first dish she taught me how to make. That’s my favorite dish. And it’s Korean,” he said. “She lived for 63 freaking years, you know? I just wanted that day out of my head.”

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Yue was one of eight people, mostly Asian women, killed March 16 in a rampage spanning three spas in neighboring counties. The alleged shooter, Robert Aaron Long, is White. He pleaded guilty in late July to four murder charges and is due in court again later this month to answer charges stemming from the other deaths, including Yue’s.

Peterson has searched for purpose in his grief. Before the tragedy, he had participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations to protest racial injustice and demand change. Now, inspired by Yue’s slaying and the support his family has received from the Black and Asian communities, he is determined to help both groups converge in their fights for greater equity.

The Petersons’ biracial identity has resonated with activists and policymakers alike. Young Bae, for example, has been active in both the Stop AAPI Hate and Black Lives Matter movements and often uses her TV show and social media to speak against racism. The Asian Pacific American and Black caucuses in Congress both have invited Peterson to speak about his experience contending with violence against both communities.

“She knew who we were, and our identity, and the duality of our identities. She loved both sides of that for us,” he said of his mother. “And to see us embraced by these different communities, for her, she would have loved that.”

Yue was born in 1957 and grew up in South Korea. She met an American soldier there, married him and they moved together to Fort Benning, Ga., around 1980.

She respected the U.S. military. She loved America for the opportunities it afforded her, including working at a grocery store and selling ice cream. She taught herself to read and write in English. And as a naturalized U.S. citizen, she felt that voting was the way she was heard in her adoptive country.

Yue and her husband divorced around 1984, and she left for Texas. Mindful that her sons looked more Black than Asian, she agreed to give him full custody so they could live with their father, Peterson said. Her boys would be better off growing up with others who looked like them and could understand their experiences as Black men in America, she thought.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Michelle Ye Hee Lee

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