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multiracial-babiesThis past week we were horrified by the news of the shooting in Charleston, SC, where a white 21 year old man walked into a historic African American church and killed 9 people.  I wish I could say that I shared in the shock expressed by so many others who were amazed that something like this could happen in 2015.  I wasn’t shocked.  Deeply saddened, angry, frustrated, yes, but shocked, not really.  What I was somewhat taken aback by was the age of the perpetrator.  Twenty-one years old, part of the same age group that I have worked with so often as a college administrator and professor.  Part of that young generation which tends to pride itself on how much more accepting they are of difference.  While I mourned for the loss of those nine individuals, I kept thinking about this twenty-one year old, imagining him as a child, wondering at what point in his growing up experience the seed of hatred had been planted?

Years ago during an intense week-long training on social justice issues, I met a white man who’d recently become a father to a beautiful little boy.  My daughter was a toddler at the time, and so we exchanged stories about parenting our respective little ones.  He’d attended the training, because like me, he wanted to expand his own education about racial justice issues. He wanted to learn how to be a better ally to people of color and how to be a better professional in his field working with diverse students.  It was a difficult week full of honest and challenging conversations.  During one of the last sessions, this man stood up and confessed that there was a part of him that wanted to pass on his white privilege to his son.  I honored his honesty.  But just as honestly I looked at him from across the room and said, “Then I will do my very best to make sure that my daughter never meets your son.”  From the pained look in his face I knew that I’d reached him.  I knew that he couldn’t possibly imagine that his innocent 3 month old son could be perceived as a future threat by a person of color.  At the end of the session he came to me and said “I will always remember your words.”

When I see images of young white men in the media whose deep-seated racism becomes public, whether they are chanting racist slurs on a bus, wearing racist halloween costumes, or at the very worst perpetuating violence against those they hate, I think about this father and his son and pray that he still remembers me and is making sure that his son doesn’t grow up into one of these young men.

It begins with our children, instilling them from a young age a positive sense of who they are that doesn’t depend on keeping someone else, some other group below them.  It begins with teaching children to see our differences, not be blind to them, and  understand the value of those differences.  It begins with sharing with our children the ugly truths about our broken world while empowering them to believe that they can heal it.  So while I hope my fellow parent has been loving, teaching, and role modeling for his son the useful ways to use his white male privilege to heal our world from racism, I will continue to teach my daughter how to see through the hatred, remain hopeful amidst the storm, and know that some day she might meet a young white man who will be ready to stand in solidarity with her because his father and her mother were brave enough to be honest with each other so many years before.

 

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Celebrating Latino Fathers

fq2There is no shortage of stereotypes about Latino fathers.  They are at worst  nonexistent or at best emotionally distant, given the whole machista ideology of manhood.   Yet as we approach Father’s Day I can’t help but reflect on the many ways in which my husband has consistently challenged these stereotypes of Latino fathers.

From the very first day our daughter was born my husband has been an active participant in her life.  While the pervading image of early motherhood is of a sleep deprived woman who spends all night feeding, diaper changing, or consoling her newborn, I have never been able to relate with that image.  My husband was the one who took care of the night feedings.  I had a very difficult childbirth experience and needed my own rest and recovery.  As soon as she stirred he would wake up, tip-toe to her crib, and carry her out to the kitchen, where he would warm up her formula and feed her while sitting in the living room couch, just so I could have some peace and quiet.  After a handful of hours of sleep, he’d get dressed and go to a full day of work.  Not once did he ever complain.  We have so many photos of selfies taken at the wee hours of the morning, one sleepy newborn and a drowsy yet gleeful looking daddy.  And mind you these selfies were taken before the era of cell phones.

From ages one to three, my husband was a stay at home father.  Talk about breaking stereotypes.  A Latino man, who took care of his daughter, while the wife went out to work to earn the money….gasp!  Unheard of.  But those two years were the most precious years of his experience as a daddy and whether she remembers them or not, of my daughter too.  They were best buddies and they had a wonderful time together.  He didn’t care that he was the only man among the many mommies at the play ground.  Or that he was the only dad at the library parent-child sing-a-long.  He only had eyes for his little girl who was quickly becoming a big girl.  A little chatter-box who not only followed him around, napped with him, but now also had something to say about everything around her and her favorite question had become “why?”.

As she’s gotten older their special bond hasn’t ended, it’s just kept evolving.  Instead of adventures on the playground, he created adventurous stories to tell her at bedtime, featuring a brave little girl and her daddy.  Together they would create the stories that always ended with the Mom calling them back into reality, completely oblivious to all of the adventures the daddy and her little girl had just experienced.

He taught her how to fish and snuck out with her early Saturday mornings where he attempted, not always successfully, to teach her the art of silence when trying to catch a finicky little fish.  Of course, it was always catch and release. They didn’t want the mommy fish to be sad wondering whatever happened to her baby fish.

He never treated her as if she were some fragile object.  She learned how to fall and get back up again on her own.  He taught her to be competitive, racing her down the street, her goal of finally beating Dad getting closer and closer as she’s gotten older.  He taught her about sports and toughened her up in ways that I would never have been able to.  And on that special day when puberty arrived, a time when many father’s grow distant from their little girls unable to accept the impending womanhood, he instead brought her flowers, hugged her, and told her what a special moment this was as part of her growing up experience.

That little girl is now a teenager.  Admittedly its harder now to connect in the same way as when she was younger.  We both lament the loss of those days when the three of us took naps together on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Or the way she would say “ephelant” instead of elephant and we didn’t dare correct her because she sounded so darn cute.  But the remnants of that special bond between Daddy and daughter are still there.  Every night they still say goodnight to each other in the same way they’ve been saying good night for years.

“Good night smoochie” he says.

“Good night, Daddy”.

“Love you googlepucks”

“Love you googlepucks plus all the….in the world” she responds adding each night another ridiculous thing to the blank in that sentence.  “Plus all the bananas in the world”, “Plus all the stars in the universe”, or “plus all the hairs on my head”.

I can’t remember where the word “googlepucks” came from.  It’s supposed to stand for the largest number possible, larger than infinity.  And that’s precisely how deep and long their daddy-daughter bond will continue to be.

So this Father’s day, I honor all of those Latino daddies, like my husband, who break the stereotypes that would define their manhood in limiting ways, not in loud protest or in overtly visible ways, but in the ways that count the most, by making their love for their children the most important thing in their lives.

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On the Texas Pool Party Incident

black-and-white-hands-joining-fingers-togetherOn Sunday evening I was catching up on my Facebook feed when I began to see another disturbing yet now familiar scene: a white police officer being abusive towards a young woman of color and pulling his gun out to chase young black men. As I kept scrolling down my newsfeed seeing more and more images and news items, I began to feel that odd combination of rage and despair.

How many more times do we need to see the same images before something changes?  Tears began to stream down my cheeks. I resisted the downward spiral I began to feel towards hopelessness. How do I stop this? I’m the mother of a young girl of color. I mentor college students of color who are watching this…again. My work is about educating people about the importance of diversity and creating inclusive and equitable environments. I can’t afford to plummet into the abyss. I desperately fought all of the negativity that kept surging in my mind and body. What do I need to see right now that can restore my sense of hope? And then it came to me. Here’s my call.

To my white brothers and sisters, I need to see you standing up in outrage over the violence that has become commonplace in our social media newsfeeds. I need you to do more than hit the share button with a SMH (shaking my head) comment attached to your post. I don’t want to see more marches led by black and brown people. Instead I want to see a million white people march all carrying signs that say #blacklivesmatter. I need to hear your resounding voices calling for justice. Because other than the handful of white allies I know of who do social justice work for a living, I just don’t see or hear you. Intellectually I know that you are out there. I know that all white people are not like the white woman who made the racist comments at the pool party and that there are some, like the white teenager who recorded the incident, that do exist.  But there needs to be more than the handful who seemingly become the exceptions to the rule.  I know there is more of you out there. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to use my recall skills to remember you, to imagine you. I shouldn’t have to work so hard to remind myself of your existence. Please let me see you. I need to see you.

To my white brothers and sisters in blue. I need to see you standing up for your own humanity. Deep down I know that not all  white police officers are represented by those we see in footage after footage chasing black bodies with guns held tightly. I know all white police officers are not victims to racial fear using their government issued weapons as a shield against the panic they’ve been socialized to feel at the sight of black bodies. But I need to see you.  Where are the officers who wear their uniform with honor and respect for the incredible responsibility that is given to them to serve and protect our communities? Where is that passion for protecting and saving lives that I saw on 9/11 as police officers ran towards those smoking towers , risking their lives for the sake of others instead of being the source of the loss of innocent lives? I need to see you. The dignity and honor of your profession has been hijacked by the few who have turned their uniforms into masks for white sheets of hatred. Stand up and reclaim the best of what being a police officer is supposed to mean.

As I pictured these possible alternative images of white people en mass standing up for racial justice and of white police officers reclaiming their calling to protect and serve all individuals not just a select few, I began to breathe easily again. There is an answer. There is a way. It’s not an easy one by any means, but we also don’t have to accept that this is how it is, how it’s always been, and how it will inevitably continue to be. As long as I can believe in the possibility of these images becoming a reality I can keep moving, keep working, keep stretching out my hand in solidarity hoping that another hand that looks different from mine will be reaching back.

For more on this incident:

“White Fear Can be Hazardous to Your Health” by Jamil Smith

“McKinney, Texas and the Racial History of American Swimming Pools” by Yoni Applebaum

“The only good news about the McKinney pool party is the white kids’ response to racism”
by Jenée Desmond-Harris

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Warning sign

Recent debates on the use of “trigger warnings” in higher education has made me wonder what it means for those of us who do diversity education work to do so in this now seemingly trigger conscious environment. As many have explained, trigger warnings began in feminist blogs as a way to create some safety when discussing difficult topics like sexual assault for their readers who might’ve experienced such traumatic events themselves. Triggers are also relevant for those who have experienced severe forms of trauma and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. For these individuals, depending on the source of their trauma, certain sounds or images for instance, result in a sudden physical or emotional recall of the traumatic event. However, most recently, as in the cases in Oberlin and the University of CA, Santa Barbara, among others, demonstrate, trigger warnings are now being discussed and at times implemented in situations where individuals may be exposed to other forms of potentially difficult or challenging topics such as racism, sexism, privilege and power. How are we to engage in conversations on these topics, which is the key goal of diversity education?

I first heard the word trigger at a diversity training workshop where, as a part of setting up ground rules for the potential difficult conversation all of the participants were about to engage in, the facilitator had us all discuss what our triggers were, as a way to create a safe space for difficult dialogue. In that setting, a trigger was meant both as a self-assessment and as a short cut.

As an assessment method, we were invited to discuss with each other what our respective triggers were around diversity issues. We created long collective lists of the various racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic, phrases, terms, and behaviors that arose strong emotional and physical reactions. We weren’t warned against these reactions however, but were instead invited to sit with those reactions, understand where they were coming from, and learn how to respond and deal with them in productive and effective ways. It was an empowering process to recognize collectively the many ways in which discrimination, prejudice, and oppression harm us all. By also discussing positive and negative ways to respond to triggers, we were also individually empowered to respond to those triggers in effective ways.

In other words saying that something triggered you wasn’t the end of a conversation, or a way to identify something that the other person should immediately seize and desist from doing, but instead using the phrase “What you just did or said triggered me” was a way to start a conversation. And this is how calling something a “trigger” in the setting of a social justice workshop also served as a shortcut. By discussing our triggers and learning about both negative and positive ways to respond when triggered, we were then able to move into the difficult dialogue part of the workshop, because now we had the language to name when the dialogue became most challenging for folks in the room. When someone did say or do something that triggered someone in the room, that person could now name what they were experiencing as a trigger, and we could all have a conversation about it. It helped both the person who was triggered and the person who had inadvertently triggered this person, reach a better understanding of the particular power dynamic that the emotional responses were actually about.

Identifying when we were triggered however was not a way to identify when we were feeling discomfort. As I read through the various discussions on triggers and trigger warnings, it appears as if for some folks the word “trigger” has become a way to say that something makes you feel uncomfortable. When discussing issues of privilege and power then it seems that those in privileged positions are using “trigger” as a substitute for saying “I’m feeling discomfort” whether because they’ve never had to look at their own privilege before, don’t know how to articulate their awareness of their privilege, or simply are resisting this new awareness of themselves as privileged individuals, “trigger” has become a way for some to in a sense to reassert their privilege. “I’m triggered” becomes a new way of saying “I don’t like what I’m hearing about myself which makes me have to rethink who I am in relation to others around me,” and instead of it becoming an opportunity for conversation and growth, it becomes now a way to silence challenges. And because we have also lumped trauma triggers (as in those triggers experienced by victims of severe trauma such as certain forms of violence and war) with any and all types of triggers, we are unable to discern the difference between someone who is having a post-traumatic reaction and someone who is simply feeling discomfort. Which takes me back to my original question, how are we to do diversity education work in this new climate, when someone who feels discomfort because they are experiencing the usual growing pains of an increased awareness around issues of diversity, can use the term trigger to stop the conversation?

What I love about higher education is its potential for developing critical thinking skills. Colleges and universities provide the perfect opportunity to bring together opposing views, whether through assigning readings that provide conflicting perspectives on a social issue, or bringing the leading opposing speakers on a particular topic, and engaging in discussions about these various perspectives. There’s no better place to analyze a particular topic from divergent viewpoints than on a college campus. Instead of discussing whether trigger warnings are useful or not, or when they should be used or not, we should put triggers themselves under our analytical microscope. Let’s unpack what we really are talking about when we say we’ve been triggered. What are the various moments in which triggers are being named? Who is naming their triggers? Are triggers being identified by those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed as a way to empower themselves against years of being silenced? Or are triggers being named by those who have the privilege in the moment to speak? And how are we defining the term trigger? Has it become a synonym for the word “discomfort”? Are we identifying a post-traumatic response emitted by a particular situation? Or are we talking about those emotional and physical responses we feel when confronted by certain racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic speech and behavior? And finally, once we know what kind of trigger we are talking about, what are the most effective and productive ways to respond?

In other words, lets use this seemingly trigger conscious environment we are now in as an opportunity for more difficult dialogues, instead of using trigger naming as a way to bubble warp ourselves from each other. For while I can understand a self-protective response to discomfort and pain (I certainly have those days when I just want to hide from the world in a cave and never feel the anger, sadness, and frustration, that I consistently feel as a woman of color ever again), I also know that the hope I still have for a better world where we can all achieve greater understanding across our many differences can only be found in those moments where we actually are triggered, learn to build resistance, and grow from the experience.

For additional discussions on trigger warnings see:

“The False Dichotomy of Trigger Warnings”

“We’ve Gone Too Far With Trigger Warnings”

“On Trigger Warnings”

“Hazards Ahead: The Problem With Trigger Warnings According to the Research”

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Teenage Contrasts

their-parents

Or are they? I am the mother of a teenage girl and I must admit it is quite the adventure.  Yet not for the typical reasons you might expect.  Since she turned thirteen whenever someone asked me her age I would get the forewarnings about the teenage years.  I even had one co-worker ask me once “Is she being nasty to you yet?,” her bluntness catching me off guard.  “No” I replied.  I was offended at the presumption that my sweet little girl would definitely become some kind of three-headed monster spewing her hormone induced venom at me on a daily basis.

Not to say that she’s a perfect little angel either.  She has her moody days, but then again so do I, so I can’t blame her for those.  We have our occasional spat over the cleanliness of her room.  And she’s had her share of teen brain moments, like the day when she poured in regular detergent into the dish washer instead of dish washing detergent, resulting in a soapy mini flood in our kitchen.  Poor kid, she was so proud of herself too for putting away the dishes and trying to be helpful.  She had a gold star for effort on that one. But the nasty teenager has not reared its head, for which I am thankful every day.

The adventurous part for me comes in the form of contrasts.  You see, my teenage years were drastically different than hers.  I spent my teenage years living in apartments, not in a nice suburban house as my daughter does, attending an overcrowded inner-city high school, not a well equipped and funded public school,  painfully aware of all that I was not able to afford or have access to.

Such a contrast in our respective teen experiences makes it really challenging to parent her through her teenage years.  Why does she need to attend so many sleepovers with her friends? She sees them in school all day long, what more could they possibly have to say to each other.  Any socializing I did with my friends in high school took place during school hours.  The freedom she has to bike into town and meet up with her friends for lunch is absolutely foreign to me, growing up in places where it was not safe to hang out outside.  Nor was there any money for a bike or to pay for my burger and fries with friends.  Her ability to be on trend when it comes to fashion is amazing to me.  I was given a meager amount of money  at the beginning of the school year to buy my “wardrobe” for the year and that was all I would wear no matter how worn the clothes became, or whether they were in style or not.  As long as I wasn’t going to school naked then all was good.

What I realize is that my daughter is growing up with a certain amount of class privilege that I never had at her age.  I’m not only raising a teenager, I’m raising a middle-class teenager, something I never was.  And while I am proud of the many sacrifices I made so that I could be in a position where my child can have certain comforts that my parents weren’t able to provide for me, I still feel at a cultural loss of sorts because she’s having an experience that I can’t relate to at all.

And yet, there are those moments where I can see some of that angst in her.  Like when the cashier rings up all of the clothes she’s chosen and she sees the total and turns to me with guilt, “I’m so sorry, Mom.”  Or the way she kept insisting this weekend as I piled on food into the grocery cart for the bar-b-que we were having for her friends on Memorial Day, that her friends didn’t really eat that much and that there was no need for me to buy so much food.  Or when her cell phone suddenly stopped working a few days ago and her Dad searched for a used one to replace it and she whispered to me, “I know it wasn’t my fault the phone broke, but I still feel bad that Dad has to get me another one.”

She may be growing up with some level of class privilege but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have class awareness.  She’s never felt deprived financially as her father and I did growing up, but she certainly doesn’t take for granted how fortunate she has been.  If all I get to experience in her teenage years are the contrasts between my world and hers, that will be best fortune of all.

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Remembering the Women on Memorial Day

Memorial-Day-imagesMemorial Day is a day of remembrance in the United States, where we honor the memory of the many who have died while serving in the military.  Where I live, as in many towns across the country, there’s a local memorial day parade featuring veterans marching, floats with patriotic imagery, and military vehicles making a slow crawl down main street.  While I salute the men and women who have served, having members of the military within my own family, as a social justice conscious person with an eye for absences, I can’t help but wonder about the many ways in which women have also sacrificed and paid the multiple costs of having loved ones serving and dying in the military.

My favorite novel, Nilda by Puerto Rican author Nicholasa Mohr comes to mind.  On another forthcoming post I will tell you more about this particular book and its impact on me, but for the purposes of today’s post, I’ll focus on the plot of the novel and its relevance for Memorial Day.  The novel is set in New York City during the years of World War II. The story begins just a few days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and ends just a few days after the end of the war is declared in headlines.  But the focus of the story are not the soldiers serving in the war, or the politics behind the war, or the experiences in the battlefields.  Instead, it focuses on the daily lives of a Puerto Rican family, particularly the women in the family.  The mother, Lydia, struggles every day to keep her large family, which includes four sons and one daughter, an ill husband, and an elderly aunt, safe from the threats of violence in her poverty stricken neighborhood.  As we follow her and her daughter, Nilda’s story, we see them endure the humiliation of the welfare office, the abuse of police officers, and the racism of the school system, while her sons are also risking their lives fighting in the war, serving their country.

Through Mohr’s narrative we see the experiences of the war that are usually missing from the mainstream war narratives, the incredible worry over her children’s safety, the despair over whether they will have enough money to pay for their necessities, and the painful contradictions of having sons serving in the war fighting to preserve the four freedoms espoused by President Franklin Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, while having so many of those freedoms denied her at home.

Where are these women’s histories?  Where are their stories of valor and sacrifice?  Where are their parade floats?  I expect to feel their absence once again at this Memorial Day’s festivities.  But thanks to the work of women writers like Nicholasa Mohr, they won’t be absent from my thoughts. I will save one of my most heartfelt salutes for them.

 

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Graduation Reflections

graduation-hatWith graduation season upon us, especially in colleges and universities, I’ve been reflecting this week on the meaning of graduation.  Graduations usually focus on the graduates, their accomplishments, and the promise of a bright future as they step off the stage, degree in hand.  From the perspective of the colleges and universities, graduations are discussed and perceived in a couple of different ways.

On the one hand they mark the eagerly awaited end of a long academic year, with the administration, staff, and faculty counting down the minutes until the campus is evacuated by students, and they can finally get to rest and re-energize before the start of the next academic year.  On the other hand, graduations are talked about in terms of statistics.  What are the graduation rates for their institutions?  What are the demographics of their graduating class?  How many graduates are going to graduate school?  How many are graduating with job offers?

Instead of leaving the reflective moment to the graduates or the graduation speakers, I think colleges and universities should also look at graduation as a time to look inward.  Institutions should stop and think about the ways in which the successes of their graduates are a direct reflection of the intentional goals and work done by the institution, and in what ways their graduates succeeded despite institutional efforts.  In other words, what can the institution truly take credit for and what can they do better, especially when in just a few short months another class of students will be entering the same institution embarking on the start of their own four year journey.  As college administrators we tend to want to celebrate, breathe a sigh of relief that the year is over, and move on to planning for the Fall.  What institutions don’t realize is that their students are not the only ones graduating.  Each year the institution itself is undergoing its own graduation.

If graduations mark the end of a phase of dedicated work that result in a transition to another phase in one’s life, then in a way, each graduation represents the end of the institutions work with that particular graduating class and transitioning to the  phase of creating the next four years of the incoming freshman class, that will undoubtedly come with its own new set of opportunities and challenges for the college.  Embracing the meaning of graduations in this manner not only role models for the students what we always want to teach them, the importance of reflection in our lives, but it also changes the meaning of graduations themselves, as celebrations that only happen at certain moments in our lives, at the end of high school or college or graduate school.  For graduations are actually experienced throughout our lives, every time that we experience a significant transition.

This year I too feel like I’m experiencing a graduation of sorts.  I won’t be wearing a cap and gown nor will I be marching across the stage to pomp and circumstance, but I am experiencing a significant transition.  I am transitioning from nine years working as an administrator at a liberal arts college, to embark on this new journey as a full time consultant and diversity educator.  I have learned so much in these last nine years.  Similar to the college graduates, I have had some good times, there have been lots of laughs, as well as difficult moments and disappointments.  But what I take with me as a result of the experience is invaluable and will undoubtedly make me better as a person and a professional.

So hats off to all of the graduates!  Whether we’re graduating from institutions of higher learning or from a phase in our own lives, may the next phase for all of us be filled with prosperity, happiness, and always moments of reflection.

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Welcome (back) to LatinaWise

latinawiseavatarfinalWelcome to LatinaWise…again!  Some of my long-time friends might remember that I used to have a blog several years ago called LatinaWise where I shared my adventures as an urban-raised Latina living in suburbia, raising a little Latina girl.  That blog focused mostly on my cultural crossings and parental anxieties.
Then life and work took over and it became too much to also run a blog.  Fast forward three years later.  That little girl has grown into a teenager and I have grown along with her achieving a point in my own life where I can finally bring together all of my interests, skills, and experiences and create the life and career that I want.

So welcome (back) to a new and improved LatinaWise where you will not only find my ongoing musings on life and parenthood, but where you will also benefit from my years of experience as a diversity educator.  Throughout the last twenty years I have served as an educator in one form or another, whether as workshop facilitator leading participants through diversity dialogues, a professor teaching courses on Latino/a history and culture, or serving as an administrator creating programs and leading initiatives to build inclusive communities on college and university campuses.  Through this blog I will continue this work offering information and resources that can help you as either an individual seeking personal growth, a professional in need of resources to do your job better serving students, or a leader wanting to create more inclusive organizations.

I’m excited to be embarking on this next phase of LatinaWise and thank you for coming along for the ride!

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