Roberto German 00:00
Welcome to our classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto German. And our classroom is officially in session. In this episode of our classroom, I am joined by Annie Tornabene, and we're going from Tupac to QPOC. Annie owns and provides educational therapy services at AMP Educational Therapy LLC in Southern California. She has previously served as Director of Learning Support, Middle School Learning Specialist and DEI Coordinator at a K-12 independent School in California. Recently, Annie joined the beloved ED tech company, BrainPOP, helping school districts across the US provide a rich online learning experiences to students and teachers. She holds a BA in Psychology from Princeton University, Certificate in Educational Therapy from UC Riverside, and a Master’s in Education from the University of San Diego. Annie has presented at national conferences on topics related to racial and ethnic identity and neurodiversity. With us today, Annie Tornabene. Welcome to another episode of our classroom. Folks, I'm here with Annie, Annie Tornabene. All right. Real Italian flavor. Annie Tornabene. And Annie is an educational therapist. She owns and provides educational therapy and services at AMP Educational Therapy LLC in Southern California. So glad that you could join me here today. I'm really, really excited to dig into this because I met you at the-- I believe I met you at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference in San Antonio this past year. And it was maybe the second day, second day before the conference ended. And you were presenting on what we've titled this particular episode of the podcast from Tupac to QPOC. First of all, I love the title. You got me hooked, so I just figured I'd use it for this episode. 'Cause I'm not reinventing the wheel here. But I do want to get into-- I wanna get into this. We don't have time to get into the whole presentation that you shared at the POCC, but we have a little bit of time carved out for you to at least give us the condensed version. So first of all, thank you for being here, Annie.
Annie Tornabene 02:58
Of course. Thanks for having me. This is great.
Roberto German 03:00
Well, let's go ahead and dig in. Can you give us the context to the title of your presentation from Tupac to QPOC? And then doing so, define the acronym Q-P-O-C.
Annie Tornabene 03:13
Yes. So full disclosure, you kinda just hit the nail on the head. Part of what I needed to do with this title was honestly get people in the door and get my proposal approved. So there's a little bit of a game to this when you have a whole national conference happening and you wanna make sure that your sticks out. So title is a really heavy draw for that purpose. But I really came to this when listening to some of Tupac's music, which I grew up with. And hate to admit it, but listening to the music on literally my iPod, which I still have.
Roberto German 03:52
You're showing your age right now.
Annie Tornabene 03:54
Right? And I still use on the plane every time. So listening to this particular song, it's called To Live & Die in L.A. it's from 1996, again, kinda the era when I was growing up. There's a particular lyric in the song that caught my attention more so this time than ever before where he says it wouldn't be L.A. without Mexicans, black love, brown pride in the sets again. And that really hit me because I feel I've been on this path to figuring out my own racial and ethnic identity and supporting others with that in my equity work at an independent school. And really just diving into that whole domain of just self-identity and categorization. And for me, it hit me almost in kind of a negative way in that I wished I had that same effusive sense of pride that Tupac was really claiming there for both black people and brown people and myself being someone who now identifies as Latinx. And that being from my mom who comes from Mexico. I really struggled with feeling that level of brown pride because I wasn't sure I was enough. I wasn't sure I counted. I wasn't sure I checked all the boxes, whatever those boxes may be. And I actually ended up watching the music video, which I had never seen for this song. I knew the song, but hadn't watched the music video. And if you haven't seen it before, watch it. It's basically a tribute to L.A. I've been living in L.A. now for about eight years coming from the East coast. And this to me, L.A.--
Roberto German 05:35
From New Jersey, right?
Annie Tornabene 05:36
From New Jersey. And this, to me, represents that-- the hub of just cultural pride, especially, you know, that Latinx pride. And I was still struggling to feel a part of that, and I wish that I could. So for me, it started to be like Tupac was this one side of the spectrum, this extreme of pride and really owning it. And then I was somewhere on this other side of the spectrum and I didn't know how to name it, where I wanted to feel that pride. I wanted to own it, but I wasn't sure if I was allowed to. So I came up with this, you know, acronym. Again, there's a lot of acronyms in the field. I know we're getting pretty heavy on acronyms. But it helped me to find a way to be able to say, I'm a person of color, POC, but sort of be able to make it clear that I'm still on this path to fully figuring it out. So that's where the Q comes in. That's questioning. So I decided a questioning person of color felt more comfortable for me and felt like it encompassed more of where I was along this experience. And I think a lot of people can identify with, I know on some level that I'm POC, a person of color. But right now I don't know exactly how to claim that and own it and label myself that. So QPOC, questioning person of color allows you to indicate that yes, I'm in there, I'm in that mix, but I'm trying to find exactly where I fall in that mix.
Roberto German 07:10
Yeah. No, that's interesting.
Annie Tornabene 07:11
And it rhymes with Tupac.
Roberto German 07:13
It's a great title. All right. It's a great title. It's probably one of the reasons I stopped by to your presentation. But it's also very fitting. And I think there are a lot of people who find themselves in this particular place where they're learning and growing, evolving, understanding more and more their identity and trying to connect with their roots for whatever reason along their journey. Whether it's because their parents didn't necessarily reinforce culture, traditions of their origins or because there were other barriers preventing individuals from really embracing that part of their identity. And so, I appreciate you being vulnerable. I appreciate you sharing this. I appreciate this acronym. Although there are a lot of acronyms out there, but this--
Annie Tornabene 8:01
There are a lot.
Roberto German 8:02
This one is unique. And I do think it's very fitting for folks who find themselves in that place of questioning and trying to understand this aspect of their identity as a person of color. And so, thank you.
Annie Tornabene 8:13
Roberto German 8:15
And while many of our followers are likely familiar with the term imposter syndrome, some might not be. And I mentioned this because this was part of your presentation, talking about your own background, your own experience with this. Can you define imposter syndrome and share how you experienced it?
Annie Tornabene 08:32
Yes. So I touched on imposter syndrome in my presentation. Again, my background also comes from psychology and kind a blending the worlds of these passions that I have. And it felt like an appropriate term to encompass some of what I was feeling. And again, I caution, you know, saying imposter syndrome as opposed to imposter phenomenon, because a lot of us think of it as diagnosable when it has the word syndrome. And really, it's actually not something that would be diagnosed as a mental health condition, but it's something that represents a phenomenon that exists in many people, if not most people, at some point in time. And it's really this feeling of achieving something, achieving some level of success and struggling to internally take ownership of that success and attributing it instead to things like luck or people just flat out overestimating your competence. And this actually came into the field by a couple of female psychologists who were studying high achieving women in education. So it came to light through this group of high achieving women who were consistently questioning their own success and really attributing it to external factors. And it came with this level of guilt in a lot of ways that they experienced the success primarily because of luck. That's what they believed. because of luck, because of circumstance. And that they really weren't any more competent, any more intelligent, any more knowledgeable necessarily than others in the field, when in fact, objectively they were. So it's grown, this idea has grown, and it's shown to be prevalent amongst all genders, all races, but it does disproportionately affect marginalized communities. And there's this whole tie in to this idea of self-confidence, self-identity. I often think of it in line with stereotype threat, which is another term from psychology, where if someone is aware, like hyper aware of their marginalized identity, there is a tendency that they may underperform in areas that tap that stereotype.
So for instance, women in math is a common one. And it's just that awareness of that stereotype that suddenly decreases their performance, but not actually reflective of their competence. So there's a lot wrapped up in here. And for me, that experience of imposter syndrome was again, feeling like, can I really claim this category? Did I earn it in a sense? And just that question of earning it kinda brought me down this road of, you know, I don't feel it's effective for us to be looking at race through this sort of deficit model of identity where you have to earn the suffering, let's say of the group that, you know, that marginalized identity has gone through. Or you have to go through the same obstacles. Because we're really trying to focus on acknowledging the suffering and obstacles it took to get to where we are but celebrating the successes, celebrating the joys. And for me, it was really conflicting. It's sort of antithetical to this celebration of joy and success. To feel that, to own an identity you have to have experienced all of the plight of that group that comes with it. And that's what made me question. Saying, well, you know, I didn't grow up speaking the language, so I didn't have that barrier. And that felt like it discounted my ability to join that group. I didn't necessarily have all the same barriers that my mom had in terms of education where she only had up through an eighth-grade education and I was able to go to college. So I started discounting myself as, you know, fraudulent in that group because I didn't have the same struggles. But instead, I really wanted to shift to this idea of, 'but your struggles come from that line.' It's a political line that spans time across generations. And you've come this far that should be celebrated, acknowledged, and celebrated as part of that group's success. Not disqualified because it doesn't match a sort of deficit story.
Roberto German 13:05
Hmm. Yeah. There's a lot there. A lot to unpack there. And I think it's a fascinating conversation to dig into. Not just with you, but for folks in general to consider, you know, where imposter syndrome shows up for them especially as it relates to race and ethnicity and whatnot. But, you know, we could look at intersections in general. But also to think about what does it mean to belong. Right? And everybody wants to belong, but what does it mean to belong? And also additionally, what responsibility do we have as we continue to learn more about who we are, right? What's our responsibility to, you know, this group that we're representing? 'Cause as you stated, you know, we can't really account for stuff that's happened in the past yet we can't account for how we go about handling the cells as we move forward. So thanks for sharing that. The US census was something that you analyzed in your presentation. And I wanna ask, how does the US census impact the notion of grappling with shifting racial categories as a questioning person of color?
Annie Tornabene 14:20
Yep. So that was the other part of my title is really digging into this categorization. And for me, that's where a big chunk of the confusion came from, right? I'm talking about checking these boxes. And quite literally the US census is where you check a box of your identity. And I have always struggled with that because of this internalized, you know, imposter phenomenon, guilt, all of these things combined of, am I allowed to check this box? Am I allowed to check the box that I'm not just white because my dad is, you know, European American, he's Italian. Am I allowed to check this box for having Latinx ethnicity? So at first when I was doing my presentation, I was actually just gonna touch on the US census because again, this is a representation of materials through time that show the thinking of how race and ethnicity were conceptualized. It was something that was literally put together and is given to homes of every few years to be able to actually claim these identities and statistically map it over time. So you would think there would be this level of consciousness in it and this level of expertise in the language. And as soon as I started to dig into it, you can dig into this from government websites.
Roberto German 15:47
Yep, I have.
Annie Tornabene 15:48
It's a blast. I discovered that it's not so much this precise language and this approach of really being-- having forethought in the way that this is expressed. The language is all over the place from, you know, year to year census to census. It really shows that the categorization was just dependent on the time and the beliefs at the time, which is hard to look at because you look at things like the belief that black individuals have just a lower intelligence across the board. And that is gonna factor into whether they're categorized as just white or not white because anything else was seen as inferior. So the categorization matched the philosophy. And then that same philosophy ends up creeping up as again immigration increases. And there's this one year, 1930 I think, where Mexicans shows up as a race for the first and only time ever on the US census. And it coincides with this timeline of individuals from Mexico who are working in the United States, who are building families in the United States. And they're again now tagged as those who are of lesser intellectual competence and are in fact uneducable. So a belief that you really can't educate them and that the best that can offer society is to just be workers. And now suddenly this category appears. So there's a lot of coincidences, there's a lot to explore there. And I still only scratched the surface, but I ended up taking all these years from, I think I went like 1800 to all the way to present day. And you see even in the instructions this language, like as the case may be or evidently full-blooded or my favorite was, it has been decided that which we talked about in our presentation, because you can feel that this is very random at times. It feels very much like someone being unsure of how to really label these things and how to direct others to complete it. So this vaguely starts to come in. And that really was validating in a way because seeing that this legal document that you presume is supposed to be the end all be all is in itself very much lacking foresight, very much lacking logic, rationale, consistency. It started to click for me, well, I can see why a lot of us would struggle with naming our identities because we're often told to name it in the context of this documentation. So I also give examples of medical documents I had to fill out, buying a home where I have to fill out race and ethnicity and they're vastly different depending on which one you look at. So it was really sort of liberating for me in a sense, at the same time as being eye-opening and infuriating for how society has structured this concept of race and ethnicity to suit the beliefs at the time.
Roberto German 19:12
Hmm. Yeah. Right. Right. Which is why, you know, coincidences is a funny word to think of when you consider the census and how this is done. Not just the census, but like a lot of practices in our country, a lot of the policies. Who it impacts positively and who it impacts negatively. Who has voice, who doesn't have voice? Where does the power truly lie? So yeah, coincidences or not. Or not. But it was very informative the way you broke that down and all the pieces of information that you laid out in the timeline of how the census has influenced the way we categorize ourselves and others. Census has always been like a tricky thing for me also. It's real funny. It just makes you not wanna fill it out. Which I'm sure you get. You know, I'm sure people just look at that and be like, "You know what, nah. None of these boxes suit me. I'm not filling this thing out."
Annie Tornabene 20:22
Yep. And that was part of sort of what I was also addressing in my presentation is at the end of the day, you might come to this conclusion from all these different things, this, you know, conflicting concept of race and ethnicity from this political sphere, the internalized questioning and lack of understanding of your own identity. The, am I enough? Do I have enough of the marginalized experience to count as marginalized? And at the end of all of it, you might just say, well, what's the point in any of it? And I sort of address that, like, what's the point of even identifying then? And I struggle with that because again, there's instances where it's like, well, why I didn't fill this out? It doesn't matter 'cause it clearly doesn't really mean anything 'cause it's gonna change in two years. But you know, the more I sort of researched, I see that there's this connection again with that lens of success and amplification of marginalized groups. And that at some point we need to kind of collectively ensure that identity is tied to that success and achievement. And one of the ways to do that is on paper, as much as that's, you know, kind of a silly way of thinking of it politically, so much comes down to these percentages on paper. The way that kids are taught about things based off of percentages, proportions of different groups. And we wanna be adding to that proportion and documenting it over time in ways that it's gonna be seen politically when it's really just boiled down to this number when we know it's much more while we're also telling the stories and building up the community from the ground up. I still think that these numbers at the end of the day play a role in how it trickles down to what people learn about other groups, what young kids are learning about other groups. And it helps to be able to feed just that perception of growth and success over time.
Roberto German 22:36
Well, this is actually a good segue 'cause I was gonna ask, what are three practical strategies to grapple with shifting racial categories as a questioning person of color?
Annie Tornabene 22:47
Yeah, so again, I wanted to think. I didn't wanna just leave people off with like, well, what's the point of all this? None of it really matters. It's sort of like, whose line is it anyway. Like, you know, none of this-- like the rules are made up and the points don't matter. Kind of is the game we're playing. But there are ways to sort of personally be able to expand beyond those feelings of feeling like a fraud of internally questioning, externally knowing which group you belong to. And one of those is honestly to acknowledge barriers and celebrate growth. And like, for example, for me that meant acknowledging the barriers that did come before me and not necessarily doing it in comparison to what did I have to deal with, but seeing what the landscape looked like just for my mom to come from Mexico, make her way to the United States with her many siblings. Purely by again, there's like coincidence, she had a sibling that was born in the US and that's why they were able to come here while her parents were visiting. And it just-- it's the luck of the draw on that one. But once here, there's all these obstacles that she and her family had to overcome to establish themselves and it sort of defined the course of her life, not so much by choice. Like the way that I think a lot of us are able to enjoy choice more now in terms of where you wanna live, what type of job you wanna take, what you wanna pursue. For her it was, my parents didn't believe in education, they wanted me to work as soon as I could. So after eighth grade, I am working in the factory with them. And I see that and I recognize that barrier. And it's not so far removed from myself, it's part of my own story because it's what my mom had to do just to live her life and what sort of built this larger picture for her. And then I can look at that and say, okay, so with all that she put into this life with as few options as she had, she was able to have this family, raise these kids myself, my siblings, were able to take that and sort of run with it. And that's where the celebration of growth comes from. That I don't think in her, you know, wildest dreams she would've anticipated having these kids that are able to go off to these great schools, get these great educations, take what they've learned, put it back out into the world in a way that helps people, but it stems from her and that stems from her parents. And you know, that recognition of barriers, wherever they come in your lineage is important. But then it's okay to celebrate how far you have come since then. That's one of the ways. Another, and you kinda touched on this earlier is to really learn about and embrace tradition. And I think that was a piece that I always thought was missing for me, but I just hadn't really noticed the ways in which it was injected into my childhood. And it can be small, simple things that you take for granted.
And often you may not notice that those are even signs of traditions until you talk about it with others and you realize like, oh wow, wait, you didn't do that? Was that just a me thing? And then you can dig into it more. So I started to realize that, oh, okay, I guess it wasn't necessarily the standard to have Selena playing in the living room while your mom teaches you to do the washing machine with your hips, you know. So those are just little pieces that tradition is kept alive and I need to reflect back on of how those bits influence who I am, influence my identity. And then the last thing is, you know, I tried to come up with this very practical tool, thinking about people in my position and also just especially students in school who are struggling with this and who are passionate about this work and feeling so limited by those check boxes that I came up with this basically just a worksheet or thought sheet to help you process in a new way what your identity may look like. And giving you the flexibility to say that your self-identification may look different if you are externally identifying, politically identifying, internally identifying or familiarly identifying. And that helped me in such a huge way to be able to say like, yeah, actually externally I might identify as white because that may be how the world is seeing me a lot of the time. And that also may change depending on how I look to the outside world at any given time. That will not change for others and it may change at different points in their life. Politically, as I sort of discussed, for me it is important to identify as a person of color so that my accomplishments are reflected in that group's growth, are reflected in that group's strength. Internally, I may still be questioning one piece here or there so I can actually label myself like I'm questioning person of color internally. So it really gives you this flexibility and insight to be able to say, I'm more than just this one checkbox. And it's okay that it ebbs and flows because everything about our personalities and our identities ebbs and flows. So it's just a way to be able to embrace rather than shy away from that feeling.
Roberto German 28:30
Yeah, that's awesome. And it-- hearing you describe that just makes me think about intersectionality. Which, you know, some folks don't wanna hear the term intersectionality. They don't want to hear any of it. They don't want to acknowledge that we have multiple aspects that make up our identity. And so I appreciate you, you know, putting emphasis there on that particular notion. So as a questioning person of color, if you had an opportunity to have lunch with anybody dead or alive that could help you further understand aspects of your identity, who would it be and why?
Annie Tornabene 29:18
Probably like the toughest question people get asked and you suddenly feel this pressure and be like, "Oh my gosh, who's the most important person throughout history?" And I really thought about this question in the context of my presentation and what brought this all to light. I thought of two things. I was like, well, there's two kids I would wanna talk to. I don't wanna talk to myself as a kid to get an understanding of like, where are you at right now? What do you even know about any of this? And I talked a little bit about this in my presentation. It's just these pieces from memory, but I want to be able to hear firsthand from that child, like, where have you gotten your information from? Where-- what is your sense of yours and other people's identities? And then the other kid I want at that table is my mom. I wanna talk to her as a kid. I wanna hear what is this like for you? And this is well before this huge emphasis in education in all these fields of, you know, psychology, on identity development and racial and ethnic pride. And I really wanna hear, what is that like for you right now in this moment without having necessarily the terms on hand to explain it without having anything to really fall back on. But just what does this feel like so that we can say, is this even an accurate representation of what this experience was? Are there pieces that I'm missing that maybe you're also not remembering? So I feel like it would just be so cool rather than it being a dead or alive, like a time travel lunch to just be able to talk to these growing versions of myself and my mom. And just point blank like, how do you see yourself? Where are you getting your identity from? Who's contributing to it? Who's making it feel stronger? What's making it feel weaker? And I think that would just be so cool.
Roberto German 31:25
A time travel lunch, I love it. I'ma have to add that, I'ma have to add that as part of my regular question here. So what's your message of encouragement for the audience?
Annie Tornabene 31:38
Yeah. I think you know what I've tried to hit on in that presentation and here is just giving yourself permission to question. And that's really in any part of your identity. This doesn't have to be specific to race, ethnicity. You're always allowed to question who you are, your values, what you believe in, what you identify with, what you don't identify with. But also don't feel like you have to question in silence. So that was a big part of my own path here. It wasn't until I said these words out loud and that happened to be in a group at POCC the first time I went virtually. And that was in a Latinx affinity group where I was terrified to join the group. So I was like, "Oh, they're gonna know." Like there's your imposter syndrome. You literally feel like a fraud in the room. And I created this micro affinity group for English dominant speakers who are trying to grapple with their Latinx identity. And that terrified me. And then getting to the room, it was just a group of, you know, colleagues from across the US who were in education in some way. And suddenly we're all saying something very similar. We're all saying, "I know I'm this because of my family, but also I don't know if I count because I don't speak the language because I don't look the part, because I, like, I don't eat the food." You know, all of these things. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, it's not just me." It feels so much better when it's not just you. You don't want other people to be, you know, confused and suffering. But honestly, confusion loves company. And I think it's important that when you are having these experiences of questioning, that you don't just question alone and in silence. That you question sort of openly in a space of potentially like-minded individuals, which is easier said than done. It's not always that you can just walk out onto the street and be like, "Hey, is anyone else feeling like this?" But finding those sort of curated spaces because there's so many now that have been curated for us. And it's just a matter of finding them and joining them and sort of speaking that-- those thoughts, that inner monologue that's making you doubt yourself.
And inevitably you're going to find people that have a similar experience or a similar train of thought that's holding them back in some way and just getting it out. We know that just naming something is critical to being able to sort of tackle it. But also finding that group in itself gives you a sense of belonging and sort of-- it gave me the power to be able to say, "Well, this group is a lot more diverse than it seems on a census." "It's a lot more diverse than it might seem in people's minds of, you know, being Latinx means you speak Spanish, you look like this, you have curly hair, you know, like all of those things." But real people shift your perspective on what these groups are, what they can be, what you can be inside that group. So don't question alone, find your groups and really think about the fact that probably a lot of your strongest relationships come from or have some element of commiserating. You know, it's like your work wife, your work husband, all your friends at work. Like there's usually some element of shared, I don't wanna say suffering, but shared experience of something that's challenging, that kind of binds you together. So it can help to find other people who are going through a similarly challenging identity experience to bind you and to kind of force out these thoughts that are holding us back. I think that's a huge piece that came to light for me. And you know, here I am actually talking about it in the open world when before I wouldn't even say it on a computer screen to one person that I would never see in real life. So finding your group, you know, voicing it out loud, trusting that it's okay to ask these questions and that you are not the only one asking them.
Roberto German 36:00
Right. And I think the People Of Color Conference has offered good models for how folks can explore their identity, engage in affinity groups, learn how to facilitate affinity groups. And, you know, continue to explore, explore who you are, connect with others, learn from others, and have others learn from you. So thank you for sharing. Annie, if folks wanna follow you, where can they do so?
Annie Tornabene 36:26
So I mean, you could probably tell from my iPod comment that I'm not exactly the most out there in social media land. I don't have Twitter. I have an Instagram, but it's private just for me to basically spam my family with pictures of my dog. So really the best place would be LinkedIn. I do use that a lot because I love, again, the connection that you're able to build there. And I love to be able to see what others are sort of doing in their own professional lives and how they tie it into their personal goals. And I think that's become a platform I've really liked to use in that way. It's sort of, for me it's less noise and more of the heart pieces. So that's where I've been really focusing just my energy on following what other people have to say and putting some of my own ideas out there.
Roberto German 37:17
There you have it folks. If you're interested in learning more from Annie, go ahead and follow her on LinkedIn. Annie, we appreciate you. It's been fascinating to-- and I've-- I heard you talk about this before, but it's good to have this one-on-one time to go a little bit deeper as it relates to going from Tupac to QPOC. And exploring, right? Exploring our identity and understanding better who we are. And so thank you for helping us with that. Thank you for offering some practical strategies to grapple with shifting racial categories as a questioning person of color. Much appreciated.
Annie Tornabene 37:56
It's been my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. And I again, hope to continue to connect in the future building our community.
Roberto German 38:02
Absolutely. Take care. As always, your engagement in our classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto German.