Over 25 years ago when I started my first professional job. I was earnest and I wanted to badly impress, so I was devastated when I got a piece of feedback about my grammar from a person I looked up to. As I was speaking, I said something like "Me and Andre went some place last night" and the person interjected and said, "No, it's Andrea and I went there the other night." I nodded because this person was technically correct and yet, I wondered immediately, why I felt so small? At that moment, a little apparition showed up on my shoulder wearing an ill fitting suit, blonde quaffed hair, a red oversized tie, orange-ish skin and whispered "Cause you're fake." Damn. I realized now I was experiencing full blown imposter syndrome. I was found out. It was most certainly the end, the end of any future advancements. I was remedial, invisible, and obviously I take criticism well, but being invisible was not always a bad thing for me.
When I was in seventh grade, I was cofounder of the North Hollywood chapter of the Ninja Club. Our organizational mission was 'Protection Through Stealth.' It was our job to be invisible. The Ninja Club was founded by my childhood friends, the Jewish Italian Fazzone brothers, Danny 'The Rambler' Rios, Jimmy 'Don't Lance my Boils' and Min and while we had various scholarly debates, like 'Could Bruce Lee beat 10 ninjas in a battle?' We did more serious things like have periodic evaluation of our skills and had quarterly Ninja tests. Some of our tests included things like running from the top of our roof at maximum speed enough to jump over the shrubs, land, roll, pop up, and loudly proclaim 'Ta Da!' like magic. More advanced tests of our skills included walking along walls with large bags of fruits from our neighbors yards, obviously to test our balance and strength, while members of our club would simulate enemy combatants trying to get you off the wall. Serious stuff.
Over and over we passed the test. So we decided we needed to raise the level of difficulty. So one evening after vigorous debate, we agreed to a test to end all tests. You see, our club did not only share a love of martial arts. We also shared our love of one woman, Andrea. I'll keep her name private to protect the innocent. We decided the person who was the most creative in expressing our admiration for Andrea would win the ultimate test. I cannot disclose who did the actual writing, but one morning as our junior high school started first period, then there on the most prominent wall when you walked into the school was spray painted, "The Ninja Club Loves Andrea." We didn't have Instagram, but we had spray paint back then. Mission accomplished. That evening as the Ninja club was on our nightly patrol to keep the neighborhood safe and in a self-congratulatory tone, we discussed the day's events.
As my Ninja club members and I were walking along, to my surprise, they all ran and left and I'm looking, where'd they go? I turn and to my horror, I see my cousin walking towards me with her best friend Andrea. I knew it was too late, but I ran and I hid behind a tree. My cousin shouted out "We see you, Chris!" I was dumbfounded since we were obviously masked and she added, "We see you and all your stupid fake Ninja Club friends." I think it's safe to say it was at that moment that being invisible became about avoiding embarrassment. Those early experiences of being exposed, being corrected, being called "fake." Those moments that I was made to feel invisible. Those were my crucible moments, the ultimate Ninja test. Having felt invisible urges me now to always try to see others. Those moments were formative to why I do what I do today. They are why I find meaning in building relationships between our campus and the larger community. They are why I find the most meaning in being with others committed to building and joining because that joining of community is generative and is a space that loves what is behind the mask. And you see, being truly visible for who we are is not the end but it's really the beginning.