East Bay cities embrace diversity as Asian populations soar

For anyone seeking proof that there has been a dramatic demographic shift in the Tri Valley, just look at the race for San Ramon City Council: Four of the six candidates are of South Asian descent.

The race offers a clear example of what residents here have been witnessing over the past decade: Asians – including Indians and Chinese – have been flocking to this Contra Costa County suburb for its well-regarded schools, abundance of housing and proximity to high-paying jobs.

The trend is backed by census numbers. San Ramon’s population was 53.6 percent white in 2010 and 47.6 percent in 2017. The number of Asians, on the other hand, grew from 36.6 percent of city’s population in 2010 to 42.3 percent in 2017.

In Dublin, where the South Asian population is concentrated in the newly-developed eastern edge of the city, a visit to a local park tells the story: Brown kids outnumber white ones, teams of adult men play cricket and sandal-clad grandfathers take their evening strolls as they would in Delhi.

Census data also supports the shift here. White residents comprised 51.3 percent of the population in Dublin in 2010 but only 48 percent in 2017. In 2010, the population was 26.8 percent Asian but jumped to 36.6 percent in 2017.

In both cities, longtime incumbent mayors are facing Indian challengers. In San Ramon, it is political newcomer Sanat Sethy against Bill Clarkson, who is seeking his fourth term. In Dublin, Councilmember Arun Goel is taking on David Haubert.

Clarkson said his city has embraced diversity with open arms.

“The cultural acceptance was led by residents,” Clarkson said. Witnessing the changing face of San Ramon, Clarkson said he approached some residents to develop a broader base of cultural events that reflect the demographics.

Those conversations led to San Ramon launching a Culture in the Community event in 2017. It took place again last month with 26 nationalities reflected in art performance, activities and food booths.

“It isn’t just about St. Patrick’s Day and other historical stuff anymore,” Clarkson said. “We are now beginning to incorporate all the various ethnic cultural festivals.”

Clarkson said San Ramon’s high ranking schools and housing stock are attracting professionals from the South Bay, where the cost of homes is much higher.

That’s exactly what drew Sethy to the Tri Valley 21 years ago, first to Dublin and then San Ramon.

“The people who are on the City Council are good people but they are not representative of the community,” Sethy said. The five-member council is comprised of all white males.

Sethy said he entered politics not to push a race-based agenda but because he loves his city and wants to ensure sustainable growth and quality of life.

The Tri Valley has proven to be an accepting place, Sethy said, pointing out that San Ramon helps promote Diwali with a festival at Dougherty Valley High School and by lighting up City Hall.

“It is beautiful,” he said.

Simar Khanna is a contributing editor at India Currents magazine.

A Race To Admissions: The Harvard Story

Her fingers flitted across the paper seal, trembling around the hallowed crest. She stuck her finger in and tore. Hard. The consequence of this letter would be the culmination of 18 years of hard work; academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, and careful self-reflection. Here lies the initial gatekeeper- admission to a “top” school in America.

But who is she? Her identity, her story, and her family circumstances determine the path of this narrative.

College admissions. For some, this is a moment of fear, nervousness, indeed of competition: a desire to boast of their accomplishments, and a means of increasing their personal brand. For others, these papers quite literally would serve as the step stools to a future in a world where the barrier to educational entry is as high as the ivory tower itself. Who is she? An Indian-American teenager who grew up in an affluent suburb in the Silicon Valley with a contrived desire to prove something to her community?  Or a diligent Latina young woman, who is relying on this admission to open the gateway for her to support her financially struggling family?

The recent movement against affirmative action by a coalition of Asian American students has taken the news by storm. Students for Fair Admissions, a conglomerate of several anonymous Asian-American students rejected by Harvard, claim that they are being discriminated against on the basis of race. They cite evidence that Asian American students face penalties solely because of their race, and that candidates with near perfect profiles are rejected in favor of less accomplished peers from other racial groups. They find in an analysis of over 150,000 student documents that Asian-American students are rated lower in terms of personality qualities like leadership, courage, and kindness. This racial stereotyping and dialogue surrounding Asian-Americans and their work ethic is considered dangerous, even by affirmative action supporters.

However, scholars say much of this fanfare is unfounded. The population of Asian-American students is significantly higher in elite colleges when you compare their overall national population. Schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley, which have done away with race-based affirmative action, have skyrocketing numbers of Asian students at the expense of Black and Latin-X ones. Critics argue that SFFA chair Richard Blum, a conservative strategist, is using Asian-Americans as his project to achieve ulterior motives. By pitting racial minorities against each other, there is a vested attempt to topple all race-based admissions.

Doing away with race as a factor in college admissions scares me. Higher education is the gatekeeper of a path towards racial equity, for many historically and systematically oppressed groups. While I can’t speak to the backgrounds of each of the students filing the case, I can say that growing up in the Silicon Valley painted a narrative of college admissions to me, similar to the plaintiffs in the case. Dinner party conversation would center around children’s educational ambitions, talk would quickly turn to how these hidden “quota systems” discriminated against us. Indian-American families living in posh neighborhoods with the money to hire private essay editors discussed these issues, quick to self-victimize.

It would be disingenuous for me to tout my “wokeness” without acknowledging that I, too, bought into the narrative that the cards were stacked against me. As an Indian-American woman from California, I thought the model minority myth would override my personal story. I readily argued that I had to try harder solely because of my race. Reflecting back on my views then, I am appalled and disgusted by my thoughts, actions, and discourse.

Affirmative action serves a role in our society to empower the disempowered. These laws are gatekeepers that serve to attempt to rectify the state of racial affairs in our country. Co-opting the narrative and failing to acknowledge the institutionalized discrimination that manifests through the exploitation of minorities, stagnant economic mobility, and opportunity barriers is the most insidious and horrifying part of this debate. Minority students, by large, suffer from educational inequality, with two-thirds of minority Americans attending high schools that are predominantly minority. These schools face a significant lack of funding, teacher shortages, and lower-quality curricula. How can students from these school-districts compete with wealthy students? They don’t have the funding to do cancer research, they can’t volunteer at a Congressman’s office if it’s two hours away, they can’t win speech and debate championships without the funding for a coach. We have to understand that the competiveness of college applications ultimately comes down to a question of access. Race is largely determinative of the access and privilege one has.

And Asian-Americans are by no means excluded from a dialogue about racial discrimination. The danger of this argument is the idea that all Asian-Americans come from culturally privileged backgrounds. While Asian-Americans are the wealthiest ethnic minority, they also have the highest rising level of income inequality. These low income Asian- American students are impacted by the affirmative action conversation, and they are the least likely to get into universities like Harvard of any other low-income racial minority. However, the narrative spun by students who are party to this lawsuit is one of embittered, wealthy Asian-Americans. Studies show that getting rid of affirmative action wouldn’t actually help Asian students in the admissions process and would hurt other minorities at large. We must recognize who has access and who needs a platform, even within racial minority groups. Affirmative action, while not perfect, is important to recognize the unique challenges that students face on account of their identity.  

I am not a victim. I cannot speak for the rest of my race, my ethnic group, or my gender. But I, growing up with abundant educational opportunities, would have been successful regardless of the college I went to. My privilege afforded me that. Let’s talk about the real issues, not just college admissions, but the institutional barriers underneath that. And let’s use this time of conversation to create a platform for those who really do need it.

Swathi Ramprasad is a sophomore at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

Date/Time Event
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
All Day
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
Oct 21, 2018 - Dec 15, 2018
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Learn to Meditate Class
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 15, 2018
6:30 pm - 10:30 pm
Bollywood Night - On The Mountain
Bollywood Night - On The Mountain
The Mountain Winery, Saratoga CA
Nov 16, 2018 - Nov 18, 2018
All Day
Xpressions 2018
Xpressions 2018
Xavier Institute of Management Bhubaneswar, Bhubaneswar

2018 Midterm Elections Voter Guide For Indian-Americans

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) released its 2018 Midterm Election Voter Guide, the only resource designed to engage, educate, and mobilize the growing South Asian American electorate in Congressional districts nationwide.

At over 5 million strong, South Asian Americans are the second-most rapidly growing demographic group nationwide, across longstanding community strongholds and newer regions in the South. As a result, South Asian Americans occupy an increasingly significant position in the American electorate. In this critical election year, South Asian Americans have a stake in key policy questions that affect our communities, and are deeply impacted by issues spanning immigration, civil rights, hate crimes, and the 2020 Census.

This guide is a voter education tool that equips South Asian Americans and all voters with the crucial information they need to cast informed votes this November. SAALT’s non-partisan 2018 Midterm Election Voter Guide does not endorse any candidate—rather; it analyzes House of Representatives candidates’ positions on four critical issues for South Asian Americans in twenty Congressional Districts with the highest South Asian American populations. The Guide also includes analysis on two additional races that feature a South Asian American candidate and a Congressional district whose member currently holds a leadership position in the House of Representatives.

Each race shows the Democratic and Republican candidates’ positions on the issues of immigration, civil rights, hate crimes, and the 2020 Census based upon their responses to a series of questions. SAALT reached out to all candidates with a questionnaire and analyzed publicly available information on their voting records on federal legislation, public statements, and policy platforms to develop our analysis. For all incumbent candidates, SAALT analyzed only their voting record on key legislation to determine their policy positions. All questions are included in the Guide to allow voters to assess a candidate’s positions themselves even if a particular Congressional district is not featured.

The Voter Guide will continue to serve as a critical community education tool that keeps the focus on the important issues impacting our nation on the road to the November 2018 elections and beyond.

Lovesick in San Jose: the Event

On the screen, a couple was getting married. A North Indian bride and South Indian groom. But the match-makers were absent. Dr. Suniti Solomon explained how her presence would raise questions. People would be uncomfortable, and ask why an AIDS doctor was at the wedding? It was best that she stay away to avoid stigma for the couple.

The notion of stigma came up a lot in the San Jose premiere screening of Lovesick (2018), which occurred at the Student Union Theater at the San Jose State University campus on Saturday, October 20 and was filled with the hubbub of a friends-and-family gathering. Posters of the microbiologist Dr. Suniti Solomon, on whose work the film was based, were emblazoned with the tagline: “In India, where marriage is a must but AIDS is unspeakable, how do you find love if you’re HIV+?” The screening of the film was an answer to this question. We learned that like other Indian matchmakers, Dr. Solomon would match by religion, education, and income; but she also matched by white blood cell counts (CD4) and viral loads.

(R to L): Ann Kim and Priya Giri Desai, co-editors of Lovesick.

The evening began with Vandana Kumar, publisher of India Currents, introducing the directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai prior to the screening. India Currents Editor Nirupama Vaidyanathan and Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain facilitated a Q&A session with directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai. To answer questions from the audience, Dr. Sunil Solomon, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and the son of the late Dr. Solomon skyped in to talk about his mother.

(R to L): IC editor Nirupama Vaidyanathan and former editor Jaya Padmanabhan in conversation with Lovesick co-director Ann Kim. 

The stigma that continues to be associated with HIV came up several times in the evening. In 1986, when Dr. Solomon documented the first case of HIV in India among sex workers, AIDS was seen as a ‘dirty disease,’ associated with sex workers, drug addicts and homosexuals. Her work was questioned. Yet, she persevered, and is regarded as a pioneer in the field. In 2015, Dr. Solomon was posthumously awarded the Padma Shri medal by the Government for her contribution to science.

In April, Urvashi Pathania reviewed the film for India Currents and mentioned that “both Manu and Karthik are sweet and lovable, but there is a certain emphasis placed on the fact that neither was “to blame” for contracted HIV.” When posed with this question at the event, the film-makers related that those who come to the clinic are preponderantly housewives who have contracted AIDs. As the evening progressed, the knowledge of the audience continued to grow, as did the admiration for the unconventional and fearless doctor.

Our review had praised the film as “humorous, poignant and tender.” “The film is an homage to the remarkable Dr. Solomon, who passed away before the film was released… She understood the interconnectivity between human wellbeing and love — and all of its accoutrements, like desire and compassion — and her own love for others will always be remembered.”

India Currents is a media partner for Lovesick.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

From Our Sponsors

Ragas Live Festival Returns

Ragas Live is an epic 24-hour, 24-set festival in New York featuring over 60 world-class musicians. A celebration of what The New York Times calls “the Raga Renaissance, flowering in Brooklyn,” the event features both traditional Indian classical music and contemporary cross-cultural collaborations.

As many India Currents readers may know, Indian classical music has a time cycle; certain ragas match the essence of, say, twilight, high noon, or sunrise. Inspired by that raga samay system, our original idea was to create an FM broadcast in NYC which would take the local listeners and those tuning in on the internet on a shared 24 hour/ 24 set journey of sound. Our goal has always been to expand the audience of raga and to provide a platform for those exploring new directions in the music. We have an amazing community of musicians here in New York so when we came up with the idea, over 50 musicians joined us for the first broadcast. After several years of broadcasting in the studio we took the inevitable leap into sharing the experience with a live audience. Last year, we broadcasted from the Rubin Museum of Art and now we will be at Pioneer Works. a sprawling 25,000-foot space with a manicured outdoor area. One can really feel the shift in music and light. It’s an immersive, interactive, magical experience and the music is fresh and exciting.


The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and New Yorker have all alluded to a musical movement dubbed Brooklyn’s “Raga Renaissance.” Of course, this embarrasses the musicians, who do not claim to be equals to the masters of Akbar’s court, but there is something going on. New diverse audiences are discovering this music, cross-cultural collaborations are creating new forms, and Indian artists born here have space to incorporate more of their full identities into their music. Our 24 track, Ragas Live Retrospective album is basically the soundtrack of this musical movement. We started documenting and nurturing what was going on 3-4 years before most of the press caught on. We never imagined it would all grow so big so quickly, but perhaps in a culture dominated by 24-hour news cycles and twitter sound-byte attention spans, a 24 hour music Raga festival is the perfect antidote.  https://www.ragaslive.org/

David Ellenbogen is founder of the Ragas Live Festival, host of the podcast NYC Radio Live and an Artistic Director and guitarist with Brooklyn Raga Massive.


The Turmeric Is Gone

Air India flight 101 touches down at 6:07 am. She enters your Queens apartment and rushes into the 10 x 1 ½ foot kitchen, still wearing her sneakers. In search for something specific, she rummages through your pre-war, knob-less wooden kitchen cabinets. Finally, she spots a bottle full of the bright, saffron-colored powder she’s been looking for. She opens the cap, takes a whiff, and places a pinch-full on her tongue. When the bitter-tasting, pungent-smelling, known to be antiseptic spice is deemed to be fresh, she takes off her shoes and rests her tired, swollen feet on the Ikea coffee table. She takes a short nap.

Despite the time difference, her eyes crack open exactly one hour before 1 pm. One hour is all she needs in the kitchen. She changes into her cooking gown and begins the preparation. Fifteen minutes pass. You stand outside and peep into the kitchen, just like you did when you were little. You hear a crackling sound. Within seconds, your eyes start watering from the intense chili, onion, ginger, garlic infusion. Then, she adds teaspoons full of the ground spice, and that does it! Like magic, it gives rise to an invisible cloud that envelops you.

You run towards the living room, but the overpowering cloud follows you till you can’t hide anymore. When you eat your mother’s food, you can no longer taste nor smell the bitter, pungent spice. It either assimilates or hides, you’re not sure which. You enter the kitchen to clean the dishes. You see that the cooking vessels are slightly burnt from all the frying; the stove, the counter, and the refrigerator handle have been dyed a deep yellow.

Twenty days of cooking, dodging the fog, eating, and a kitchen growing more and more saffron, and it is time for Air India flight 101 to take off. You hug her and wave many goodbyes. Back in the Queens apartment, you enter the kitchen. It is noon and you are hungry. You open the refrigerator, and see a plate of food she left for you. You smile.

You run your hands along the contours of the stubborn yellow splotches, where her tireless hands had been. You place your thumb and index finger where hers had left many a dull golden print. You think about her and you try to retrace how each of these impressions was possibly created. You look at the culprit bottle, and find that it is devoid of any turmeric. You search for the turmeric, just as you search for her.

Ratna Goradia is a writer who lives and works in Southern California. She was raised in Mumbai and is currently working on her first short story collection about growing up in India, reimagining childhood memories of innocence, adventure and joy. 

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts

Honey was man’s first sweetener. Honey was also an important condiment in medieval times. We crave sweets, as our stone-age forefathers have been deprived of it for centuries. Humans (Homo sapiens) evolved some 50,000 years ago, whereas bees were making honey 40 million years before that. Honeybees as a group probably originated in South East Asia. It seems they developed social behavior and structural identity similar to what we observe in modern honey bees, some 30 million years ago. Apis mellifera, known as the western honey bee, is a commonly domesticated species. It is believed to have originated in Africa and spread later to Europe and Asia. Honey was the staple sweetener in Europe till the 1500s. The name “honey” comes from the English word “huning.” In 1622, European colonists brought these sub-species to Americas. Cooking with honey was a mark of privilege and it was long used for preserving fruits whole or as a jam.
Cave paintings in Spain from 7000 B.C show the earliest records of bee keeping. Honey is also mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings from 2100 B.C. From available evidence, we know that humans have been collecting honey for 10,000 years. But the interplay between bees and flowers is understood much later in 1000 A.D.
The pre-historic cave paintings at Bhimbetka in India show men despoiling beehives built on rocks, perhaps around 6000 B.C. Even as early as the Rigvedic period (2nd and 1st century) the Rbhu brothers were credited with building artificial hives of reeds and straws. The Mahabharata (4th century B.C.) has references to apiary keepers, flower gardens and pollen yielding plants, indicating some degree of commercialization by then.
Bees were domesticated in artificial hives both in India and Egypt about 4500 years ago. The earliest record of bee keeping in Egypt is found in the Sun temple (near Cairo) believed to be erected in 2400 B.C. In 1800s, when archaeologists were working in Egypt, they found a large jar of honey, and found that it tasted perfect, even though it was thousands of years old.
Honey is truly an insect product of high nutritive value. The food value of honey may be estimated by the presence of about 80% sugar in it. One should not mistakenly assume that honey is only a plant product because the nectar, pollen and cane-sugar are all secretions from flowers. As they are digested by bees, it gets mixed with their saliva and it soon undergoes certain chemical changes due to the action of enzymes. At this stage sugar (sucrose) is converted into dextrose and levulose. At the same time some ingredients of bees are also added to the mixture and the water content reduces. The whole mixture is then collected in the crop until the honey bee reaches the hive. As the bee reaches the hive this compound is regurgitated in the hive cell and is known as “Honey.”

Honey Dipped Balushahi
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp. yogurt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 2 tsp. clarified butter
* ghee for deep frying
* Honey for dipping
Mix all the ingredients together, except ghee and honey. Prepare smooth fluffy dough. Divide them into equal parts and shape them as you please. Now, heat the ghee to medium hot (not too smoky) and fry these balushahis to golden brown. Then, dip them in honey until it coats all over it. Serve chilled as a dessert.

Dry Fruits Milkshake
Honey Jar* 3 fresh figs
* 5 dates
* 5 almonds
* 3-4 cashew nuts
* 4-7 pistachios
* 1 large banana
* 2 tsp. honey
* 4 cups of organic milk
Blend all the above mentioned ingredients together till smooth. Serve chilled in tall glasses.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantras.com

First published in May 2017.

“Getting Lost” Everest Jeep-Style!


Our epic journey began as an empty book. It only had the title – “To the Top of the World.” The rest of the pages would be filled over the next few days. All that was known was that it would be a story of 25 Mahindra jeeps which would carry us to Everest base camp from the Tibetan side. The briefing which took place at Kathmandu introduced some individuals into the narrative. As the days went by, words filled the pages – names, titles, and addresses of those who drove these jeeps started to dot the blank pages. Slowly, these mere labels became identified with faces and smiles. But very soon, they jumbled one into the other to become one – the convoy; one entity following the common passion of beholding the greatest peak on the top of the world – Everest! The convoy became the main plot of the story and the journey – the Goal.

The journey from Kathmandu (1400 m) to Saga (4640 m) was tough on some in the group, with the rapid rise in elevation. But witnessing the resilience of the local people put everyone’s difficulties in perspective. Staying hydrated was very important at this point of our trip. Inhaling camphor vapor helped overcome the discomfort to some extent. Colors started filling in and the characters of the plot no longer identified with the people or the jeeps. The vast expanse of the mountains ranges traversed on sometimes impassable roads were now the true “stars” in the tale. Mountain passes and the colorful prayer flags were very pleasing to the eye and soothed the mind.

The small train of vehicles moved forward and gained altitude in their majesty, crisp and rare, step by step getting closer to the goal. The convoy attracted respect from the locals, much in the same way that people in uniform do. We all felt an unexpected sense of pride to be part of this unique entourage.

The route from Saga to Shigatse to Lhasa was fantastic! It was not just the mountains that posed for the convoy, the lakes did their share of showing off too. Yamdrok lake was one of them. The bluer than blue waters of the huge lake seemed to swallow up the mountains it reflected. The clouds in the sky bowed down to join the feast.  An added bonus in the form of mastiffs and yaks begged to be captured on camera.

The plot thickened as the pages of the story began filling with picturesque shots of Mother Nature at her best. Every turn, every switch back, was a better scene than the previous one, overloading both the mind and the various digital devices that sought to capture the abundance of majestic vistas!  The rest of us seemed so minuscule, adding little or no value at this point. The view of Everest playing peek-a-boo as we got close to Rongbuk Monastery gave the much-needed boost as we were reaching an elevation of close to 5200 m. The last kilometer was a tough walk up to the monument, with windchill contributing to freezing temperatures.  

Then came the Triumph! The ‘Epitome’ of all – overwhelming in magnitude, with beauty beyond comparison. Our goal reached at last!  Pure unbounded joy, a feast for the senses, filling mind, heart and soul. The scale of Mount Everest humbled and took our breath away..quite literally. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was in the presence of such majesty!

The urge to “be”, forced me to sit and watch the peak for a while. Then as I closed my eyes, I felt “nothingness.” What was me, meant nothing anymore. I was just a weave of yarn, each thread a mere memory that mattered no more. The vastness and expanse of the mountains simply took over all feeling. There was a sudden feel of a certain lightness in my being from that point. The serene beauty I beheld was at once formless and also had enormous physical form. What a humbling experience! I hope to etch it in my memory forever. Everyone had had their own piece of grace, secretly experienced as their own personal treasure, and quietly stashed it away in their minds. With heavy hearts and feeling blessed, we started the descent back to our abodes.

Ten days ago, at the start of the journey, 56 strangers banded together with a common goal. The subsequent journey to ‘The Roof of the World’, traversing 2400 kms and crossing 20 mountain passes (10 of which were over 5000 m), left us feeling like we had known each other forever. “Sharing is caring” was the motto of the journey. It was interesting how we all dropped our walls to find common ground, that enabled us to make lasting connections. 

For me personally, this journey heralds a new beginning, a yearning to be one with Nature. It has opened the door to new ventures. It has given me beautiful insights, by drawing me out of the comfort zone of established rigid sojourns,right into an unparalleled universe of limitless expanse. A morning cup of coffee, which held such significance in my “normal” routine was easily replaced by a cup of hot water or black tea. I found a certain freedom from the routines I allowed myself to be habituated by in the real world. Both my body and mind acclimatized to the dizzying elevations and varying temperatures in a way I could not have believed possible. Neither could I have imagined being on the road, journeying for an average of ten hours a day!

I was thrilled I had the chance to be at the wheel a few times, enjoying the mountain ranges and switchbacks from a driver’s perspective! I find within me now, an unusual excitement – a hankering to tread similar paths.  A new desire to truly “get lost” again seems to linger on! I wish and hope everybody gets to experience the wondrous Himalayas!  It was a journey of a lifetime for all of us.

jayanthi Tirumale lives in Bengaluru, India.


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