By Pata Suyemoto By Susie Reece
This creative storytelling piece was co-authored for a co-presentation at the 2023 American Association of Suicidology.
Not long ago, I sat across from a woman who told me my face showed no emotion.
She scribbled my race across the paper and equated me to a robot.
She held sway, and my money, over how I would be weighed in that space.
I sat in shock that such a sentence would be said to me there.
In a place where inclusion had been discussed just hours before.
A room where diversity was touted, but not necessarily visibly meaningful.
I sat, and withheld, my anger, my outrage, my feelings of humanity.
They came together against me, and described words that weren’t unknown
Not to me, nor to those who look like me.
Robotic, flat affect, unemotional
Fluttering about my head as I swam in panic and anxiety
Floating above me like the taunts I had known as a child.
I was graded as an Asian American, then told those were my own words, used against me by me
Discounted, dismissed, dehumanized…
In a space of wellbeing and worth, a space of welcome and care, a space not unlike this.
They invited me to speak at their conference
To share the gift – my story of struggle, pain, and recovery
To share the “lived experience” of what they read in their textbooks
Me and four other “drs”
But they forget that I am a “Dr.” too – a detail they left off the flyer
Not that I usually care,
I don’t place too much value on those accolades
They forget that I am a whole person
A whole person
Perhaps they cannot fathom a person with lived experience can have a PhD
Perhaps they see a stereotype – an assumption based on one fact
Perhaps they don’t realize that we are everywhere
At the presentation, I am, of course– last
Right before lunch
And the four doctors before me run over
And then it’s my turn
But everyone is impatient and hungry
My voice, and that is what they wanted, right?
My voice is drowned out by the shuffling and distraction of the upcoming lunch
My message is truncated because they are running late.
I am left with the sense that I am an afterthought
not quite worthy of your full attention.
We can sit here in shock, awe, and disbelief,
But until we sit and listen to the stories of those who look nothing like us,
We can never hope to unlearn generations of hate and limitation.
That day, I was made to account for my face, my past, and my traumas
Only to remain unheard, not once but four times
I was told they knew an Asian American leader then asked if I did too.
Because we all know each other, but cannot possibly know ourselves.
These spaces need to decide today whether or not they will continue to lie to us,
Whether they will claim inclusion but build walls that lessen,
Whether they will put in the work that equity demands.
These spaces need to know that many of us are making our ways here,
We are stepping in with courage, with voice, with boldness and noise.
We are rising up against the walls and lifting one another to stand above.
We are shaping these spaces to reflect the hopes we always held for them.
These spaces need to know that today is a stepping stone,
On the path of progress
A path that will leave ignorance, exclusion, and hatred behind.
These spaces are ours, to fill as we each fit.
Many of these spaces continue to ignore, silence, and shun us.
What do we do?
What do we do?
We take the hammer, nails, 2 by 4s, sheetrock, and tiles
And we build.
We build new spaces.
We construct a sturdy frame
Grounded in the earth
Our new structure is expansive
And in these spaces we bridge our divides
New spaces, shaped by the hands of many
And determined to create a place for us
A place for us to come
A place where challenge is not avoided
A place where a huge table fills the room
A table with room enough
for all of us.
We cannot be one,
until all are heard
We cannot undo strife
Until all are seen
We cannot make peace
Until all are well.