"Our Lives Begin to End the Day we Become Silent About Things that Matter."  --Martin Luther King. Jr.
A few months back, outside Publix Supermarket headquarters, where the Coalition of Immokalee Workers conducted a six-day hunger strike, I made inquiries about Francisca.
"Do you know a woman by the name of Franscica Herrera?" I asked a few of the strikers and among the supporters of the coalition's Fair Food campaign camping out along Airport Road. I caught myself a few times asking for Francisca, followed by the obvious explanation of who she was: the mother of Carlitos, the baby without limbs. 
Neither of them is easy to forget. Carlitos, for his physical limitations and Francisca, for that permanent smile across her face; that smile that is half youthful joie de vivre and half bewilderment, almost as if the world around her in 2013 was as unfamiliar as it was years ago when she crossed the border.

Ten years ago, at sixteen, Francisca left Huehuetonoc, Mexico, and crossed into the USA along with 19 "chickens|" led by a coyote. They walked the desert for two weeks, slept little, ate less. They walked, trotted, crouched, crawled and ran on command. In silence. In fear. Their hearts bursting with hope and hunger gnawing at their guts.
Two weeks later, maybe more, Francisca arrived in North Carolina, where she picked tomatoes for 12-14 hours a day alongside her husband. When the harvest was over and the soil was done for the year, the couple moved South, looking for work. First, they worked in Fort Myers and when there was nothing left for them to do there, they continued farther south to Immokalee where a produce company hired them as farmhand. At the company labor camp, they shared a trailer, which should have been condemned, with four other people, each of them paid $35 a week, turning a derelict trailer into a cash machine generating the company $840 a month.

Francisca got pregnant while living at the migrant labor camp. So did her neighbors Sostenes and Maria. The three of them got bathed in pesticides while pregnant and the three of them gave birth to extraordinary babies.
Sostenes gave birth to Jesus, a baby boy born with Pierre Robin Syndrome, a condition in which the lower jaw is exceedingly small, set back, and the tongue is pushed to the back of the throat. Baby Jesus was at constant risk of swallowing his own tongue and dying of asphyxiation.
Maria gave birth to an underweight baby boy with no nose, no ears, an immature heart, malfunctioning lungs and underdeveloped genitalia. He was named Jorge, then renamed Violeta, then he/she died.
Francisca gave birth to Carlitos, baby boy without arms or legs

Jesus, Jorge/Violeta, and Carlitos became to be known as the TRES NIÑOS, a name coined by a group of lawyers who initiated a lawsuit against the produce company. Then Sostenes left Immokalee and Maria, understandably,  didn't want to be involved in legal procedures. It was just Francisca. A lawyer filed suit, holding her employer liable for medical and hospital costs, lifetime care costs, disability, disfigurement, pain, suffering and mental anguish among other charges.
I didn't talk about the lawsuit back then when I interviewed her and we didn't talk about it either now. My guess is that her lawyer won. She lives in a beautiful house with a double garage and a kitchen with granite counters. Carlitos has a state of the art wheel chair which he operates with his right stump. He is a happy boy; smiley and a bit of a flirt, who doesn't think twice about blowing kisses and winking with abandon.
Are you happy, Francisca? I asked her.
She giggles like a little girl.
"I don't know," she said.

1/3/2017 01:30:52 am

She (and her associates) sneak into this country, illegally. All three get pregnant (de rigueur!) and subsequently give birth to their "anchor babies," who, unfortunately, are all born with severe deformities due to (and caused by) their mothers' poor judgment. Are we to believe they never considered the danger of insecticide exposure on a fetus? Even if so, the possibility didn't carry much weight because of the critical nature of an "anchor baby" - as a crucial tool in the scheme.

I have no doubt that the one whose severely deformed infant died wasted no time getting pregnant again. The "anchor baby" is pivotal to the plan.

So, it seems Francisca's deformed baby paid off for her far beyond her wildest expectations.

Why in the world would the employer be responsible for this outrage??? The employer was just running his business; he didn't force these women to work for him.

1/3/2017 11:58:32 pm

Having read and loved this book, I see no calculation toward having "anchor babies." What I see is women on the edge of existence with no access to healthcare and no choice about whether they are even to become pregnant or not. The book clearly explains that these women were not informed about the dangers of the insecticide. You write about pregnancy as if it is a willed act; often it is not. Your lack of empathy is shocking and disturbing; it is clear that you have not had to deal with either a uterus or unwanted sexual advances in your life.

1/4/2017 06:45:06 pm

It amazes me that one would think that any woman who is only concerned only for the survival of her children could be so cunning as to plan a treacherous trip through the badlands for the purpose of birthing an anchor baby. Do you not realize that humans need to first take care of all their primordial needs before anything (Maslow Hierarchy). That means water, food, shelter, warmth, taking care of offsprings - you know the basics - must be met before anything else and must be met repeatedly. After these needs are met, they may then begin working on how to improve these basic needs. These poor women, with souls and kind spirits, are trying only to survive and take care of their own at the basic levels. They are desparate. They are scared. They are simply not capable of having such plans as to birth an "anchor" baby. Further, if they get impregnated, it is more often than not, through the violent act of rape. Your lack of emphathy is very concerning and can only be a reflection of you living a privileged life, and therefore, not possessing the human ability to put yourself in another's place less lucky than you. None of us select what country we are born in or what parents we are born to. If not for grace or pure luck, you could have been Francisca. Try having compassion, try putting yourself in Francisca's shoes for a few days.

1/4/2017 07:28:02 pm

Dear outraged, I'd be willing to bet you voted for Trump, if you voted at all, that is. Many people, like you, talk a lot and loud about things they don't like or understand but rarely ever actually do anything but complain. This author not only submerged herself in an area that she knew little about but saw it all the way through. She then enlightened her readers about a subset of our country that is often invisible to most of us. Your close-minded, hateful comments display one of the reasons these kind of circumstances exist.
I feel sorry for you and I hope you find compassion for others before the need for it is forced upon you.

Natalie Parra
1/4/2017 08:11:28 pm

Where do you even get this stuff? Beside being so cruel it's hard to fathom, your information is totally incorrect. Your misplaced sympathy for the employer who is "just running his business" is ignorant. If your boss doused you with toxic chemicals at work, would that be your response? In California, where I live, immigrant farm workers pick most of the fruit and vegetables for the entire country! They work on 100 degree days, they work without sick pay, without paid vacations, without medical insurance, often without daycare for their children, who must work at their sides. Have you no humanity? Please, educate yourself, and then maybe you won't be afraid to use your real name.

1/4/2017 08:22:08 pm

outraged, you probably haven't read the book, and you should, because it might help you develop some of the empathy you're sorely lacking. If you're not going to read it, take your trolling somewhere else.

1/4/2017 10:53:42 pm

Wth Outraged? So we are to believe that these are calculating evil women who would purposely GIVE their unborn child a birth defect to have a permanent help and access to America? What backwoods,uneducated,hillbilly hole did you crawl out of? If, by chance,in your tiny little world, you EVER stopped to speak to (even via translator) ANY migrant, you would discover how hard they work, the jobs they take that many of us would find beneath us or too difficult. People who much of the time won't take what most would call a handout. Yes, there are some who come to take advantage of the system, but to think that women would willingly and wrecklessly want to risk their existing and unborn families is beyond asinine and ridiculous to say the least. Take a walk in the real world. Visit another culture other than your 1st world 4 walls and God forbid open your mind to the simple fact that people are not bad just because the don't live in "your little world". So sad to think there are still such small minds in such a big universe.

1/5/2017 04:26:26 am

Dear Outraged,
It's so easy to judge others when one has had a life where bare necessities are met without much effort, living in a country of abundance and opportunities. Looking for Esperanza narrates the stories of only a few women who had the courage to endure paín and suffering in order to create a better life for themselves and for their families. Many of them have left their entires families behind, some including their own children They were not so lucky to have been born in a country with Welfare or food stamps and their day to day is based on finding food to put on the table. Think again when you make those comments and be thankful that probably you will never have to experience any of it.

1/5/2017 08:51:03 am

Dear Outraged – I have to assume you read Adriana’s book; otherwise, you could not have commented on the three women’s very difficult life experiences. My reaction after reading the book was quite the opposite of yours.

I didn’t blame the undocumented for wanting better lives for themselves and their families.

I didn’t blame the undocumented women for having to work (as opposed to choosing to work) in undesirable conditions.

I didn’t blame these three undocumented women for having extraordinary babies and I definitely didn’t blame them for, as you stated, their poor judgment.

Your statement, “Are we to believe they never considered the danger of insecticide exposure on a fetus?” This statement of yours is the same as blaming residents who continued to live around the Three Mile Island after the accident. The mothers of those children who were born with birth defects at Three Miles Island didn’t knowingly stay around there so they can be part of the out-of-court settlements [per Wikipedia publication - "According to Eric Epstein, chair of Three Mile Island Alert, the TMI plant operator and its insurers paid at least $82 million in publicly documented compensation to residents for "loss of business revenue, evacuation expenses and health claims". Also according to Harvey Wasserman, hundreds of out-of-court settlements have been reached with alleged victims of the fallout, with a total of $15 million paid out to parents of children born with birth defects."]

Another thing, if you truly believe these undocumented women got pregnant so they could have, as you labeled them, “anchor babies”, then why would they knowingly risk their own health and that of their fetuses. I don’t think they would!!

Outraged - I hope you will re-read Adriana’s “Looking for Esperanza “ and I hope you can find empathy and compassion in your heart for our fellow human beings who may not be as fortunate as you.

Captain Obvious
1/5/2017 06:55:08 pm

Dearest Outraged:
When it is clear you haven't read the book but you still insist on posting gibberish that bashes things you can't possibly understand on the same level as the author (who was actually on the ground), it exposes you as a garden-variety idiot and a Trump voter (please excuse my repetition, and my ability to use semi-complex word play that will most likely fly a few feet over your head).

1/5/2017 07:25:34 pm

So Mr "Outraged" It irritates me to read your comments on such a heart wrenching story of survival. You probably won't read this many replies and I don't like feeling this way so I'll make it brief. Instead of spewing hateful comments about Francisca, why not educate yourself, put yourself in their shoes (as Adriana Paramo did to understand what they went/go through on a daily basis). Brush up on "just running his business" and you will understand the legalities the employer is responsible for. Oh yeh, and crawl back into that cave!

1/8/2017 07:21:33 pm

Dear Outraged,

I invite you to think of a time when you felt judged by someone else. When you thought it was unfair of that person to judge you --- because what do they know?! They don't know your reasons, your beliefs, your fears. They couldn't possibly understand how you felt. They couldn't know what you knew to be true. They couldn't see what you saw. How unfair of them to judge you without asking you why, without at least trying to walk in your shoes. I'm sure there were many times in your life you felt this way.

And now I invite you to read the book! I promise you, you'll see things in a different way. And I promise that you'll be outraged! You'll be outraged by the fact that those women are being so harshly judged by people without empathy and compassion. Outraged because they have no representation, no voice!

You will then realize that the only dark place where a plan like the one you describe exists is in the empty minds of those who don't really care about this country or their fellow human beings! Do not be like them! Be better!

1/4/2017 05:10:33 pm

You sound angry, Outraged. I have my moments too, but as a mother, an immigrant, and an educated citizen, I try my hardest not to allow anger to cloud my judgement. These are difficult times and we need to use every bit of compassion we have if we want to survive. Together. As a collective. As the diverse nation we are meant to be. Anchor babies are not pivotal to anyone's plan. At least not to the undocumented women I worked with so closely. Your choice of words, on the other hand, sounds like the heart of your hatred-centered plan. Whatever this plan might be.

Susan D.
1/4/2017 06:11:09 pm

Dear Outraged: sometimes our own displaced anger rises when we are joined with a piece of literature that hits home with us. Adriana has written a brilliant book and has brought the attention to many of us the hard labor and the horror these women go through. I live in a beautiful area and we have women out in the fields picking the very fruit many of us eat, I never once thought about the difficult life these women endure until I read Adriana's book. She is an erudite writer and I share her book with others. Maybe a second read for you will open your heart to the true point Adriana has made.💜

1/4/2017 07:15:36 pm

My message to Outraged: Let me start with a simple question. Why are you outraged? It takes time and energy to have such outrage, and yet your reasoning (what you provide as evidence for why you are outraged) only proves that you haven't read this book and that if you have you lack critical thinking skills. And I will go further and say that the act of leaving hate-filled anonymous comments on any website is a cowardly act. Next, I return to the question: Why are you outraged, particularly because unless you are a Native person, your own family also made a journey to the US, and somewhere along the way, I guarantee you, they too experienced difficulties. Why are you outraged? Why do you see opportunism when the rest of us see rape and violence? Why do you see some elaborate plan when the rest of us see endurance and hard work and perseverance? What, specifically do you despise so much about these women? Is it their love for their children, or their lack of medical care, or the immense bravery and willpower it takes to make this dangerous trek across thousands and thousands of miles? That you are siding with the oppressor rather than with the oppressed speaks volumes. Now another question: Who hurt you?

Carmel Mawle
1/4/2017 07:32:30 pm

There's sadly nothing original in these hateful comments. They are representative of the anger that ushered in the new administration - the scapegoating and demonization of the "other". Blaming economic injustices on the powerless is a classic slight of hand, a tactic to divert the disgruntled masses from the true source of their suffering. The lack of empathy demonstrated here (and the resulting lack of compassion) is a requirement to justify every manner of evil. But this kind of anger doesn't only affect those on whom it's venom spews, it is an acid that eats out the stomachs and hearts and brains of those who harbor it. I can't imagine reading "Looking for Esperanza" without being able to feel for these women. I'm very sorry for Outraged, but he/she should be congratulated for making the effort to read the book. I pray that the seeds of this book will continue to percolate until they find some fertile soil.

1/4/2017 07:33:09 pm

In response to Outraged: I, too, am outraged, only I am outraged by the injustice and prejudice in our culture that gives rise to comments like yours. The term "anchor babies" is so derogatory that it does not carry true meaning. It is a hate term. It is a term used to discriminate against women whose lives and stories and voices are significant. This is the beauty of Ms. Paramo's book. It gives voice to women who are not seen and not valued by our culture, and it gives breath to stories of what it means to be a human being who rises up against brutal circumstances to create a life despite those circumstances. It is a fierce and tender and compassionate book, and the women in it show us what it means to retain one's humanity and sense of self--and to love--despite cruelty and hatred. Their stories are worthy of literature that should be required reading for all Americans.

1/4/2017 07:49:51 pm

Dear outraged, what has the world ever done to you that you should be so judgemental so unfeeling...do you have ice in your veins?
Another question : have you actually read the same book we have?
This book is about survival, busting a gut to stay alive. No one would choose such a life..I am in awe of these women. Our fate (to a certain extent) is an accident of birth.
I'm not outraged by your comments 'outraged' instead I feel sad for you. Maybe read the book in its entirety (apologies if you have done so already) hopefully after some reflection... you'll see what we see. If not, continue to stew in your bitterness...

1/4/2017 08:08:11 pm

Dear Outraged,
I am a writer who has a low paying day job. I thought of applying to work picking apples in Connecticut, but the ad mentioned that the job involved working with pesticide.
I read English and have other options, so I didn't take the job.
I suspect that the warning is the result of lawsuits like Francisca's.
My ancestors came here from someplace and so did yours. They may have come here legally and they may not. Some people come "sneaking" because the red tape to apply legally is as bad as the conditions in the country they are leaving. Others come under the insulting category of "guest worker" -- you can work here while you're young but leave before you retire. A friend who came here legally in 1996 only had her paperwork processed in 2014. That's eighteen years of not having resident status while working for the American people.
Do you have children? Have you ever watched them suffer?
Try this. Do you have mittens? Wear them for a day while you try to do your work. Then imagine that you have no arms at all. Then, no legs at all.
Then imagine that you are watching your child in that state.
The employer is liable because he used illegal and dangerous amounts of pesticide, with no concern for his workers or their children.
If the employer did not hire illegal workers, at far lower wages than he would have to pay American citizens, Francisca and her friends would not have come here.
The person to be outraged at is the one who created the unsafe conditions, exploiting people who work in the shadows and cannot complain.
There is also room to be angry at those of us who want our fruit to be cheap, plentiful, and free from blemish, which means keeping all the insects away and covering the fruit with wax. We seldom think about the people who harvest and prepare our food, who make our clothes, or who clean our offices.
I suspect that you haven't read the whole book.
You should. It will change your heart.
Nobody "schemes" to have a limbless child in a hostile environment, where strangers judge you for working at whatever is available to survive.
If, Outraged, you don't want to spend money on the book, you could ask your library to buy it. You will see what these workers are paid and how they are treated. Perhaps you could picture your wife in that situation, and think how you would feel and act.
Francisca's story is just one of many.
Francisca would not have come if there were not a fruit grower so desperate to make money that he hires people who come here illegally and accordingly are paid less than the legal wage. The employers endanger the workers by encouraging them to come rather than filling out the proper paperwork to bring them here legally. Then they endanger the workers by the conditions under which they insist upon. Then they endanger them through constant poverty. And when the workers are spent, the employers treat them like fungible office machinery, tossing them out without a pension or recognition of their contribution to the farm's success.
To get pregnant in such hostile circumstances is not a scheme; it is a triumph of hope and love.
Francisca worked even when she felt nausea, even when her womb was heavy, even when the baby was.... well, not kicking, as he had no legs, but certainly bumping against her.
And her hope grew a little each month. Will he look like her parents, so far away? Will he crinkle his forehead like her late grandmother? Will he grow up a legal citizen, able to go to school, choose better work, and perhaps become a lawyer or doctor to help his people?
She didn't have an abortion.
She didn't abandon her child to the State.
She stayed, she found, and this young citizen may surprise us all some day.
"Esperanza," the woman Adriana sought, is named for the Spanish word for hope. The birth of Francisca's baby was not a scheme, it was a vote for the future. And her triumph in the court of law makes all of us safer.
Don't be outraged, or, don't be outraged at her. Be grateful. If there are no more immigrants willing or available to take this job, the Americans who reluctantly pitch in will be safer because of Francisca's child's suffering.
Coming on the heels of the season where we are grateful to a Baby born far from home and forced into exile, that's something to ponder.

1/4/2017 08:15:11 pm

Dear Outraged,
I was privelaged to have read this book, which allowed you to have an insight on what is like to be without, to experiance things you wish no one to go through, to have an insight into survival. It astonishes me why you have chosen to critisise and take out your frustration with so much displaced anger. This book takes you on a journey that is non judgemental, but purely thankful that u had the opportunity to experiance it. Please me mindful where you anger is targeted in future..

1/4/2017 09:43:56 pm

Are you really so naive or simply cruel to ask such a question? Exploiting the circumstances of these vulnerable women makes the employer accountable. I wonder if you will feel the same way if you had to work under such unhealthy conditions. You have so conveniently and carelessly undermined their struggle for survival and justice. Adriana's book resonates with any woman, mother, migrant or anyone with a compassionate heart. I have yet to finish the book but that doesn't change how I feel about it from the first page that I read.

1/4/2017 09:45:07 pm

Dear outraged,

I, too, am outraged, though my outrage is directed at reading your ignorant, limited, and frankly disgusting comments about Adriana's book.

As a writer, I truly believe that all readers are entitled to their opinions on the books they read. However, it's clear from your response that you most likely did not read Adriana's book, and if you did, you went into it with a preconceived set of judgments and assumptions. Nothing in your post was directed at the book itself, but rather was a soapbox for you to spew a Fox-News-esque rant to those of us who may wish to engage in a real discussion about real issues. But what better avenue to deliver anonymous, hate-filled responses than the internet!?! Your line: "Their 'anchor babies,' who, unfortunately, are all born with severe deformities due to (and caused by) their mothers' poor judgment" is the kind of faulty, backward thinking that I find terrifying. This line in particular reminded me so much of the same sort of vile venom the president-elect trump (won't capitalize his name) is evoking in the masses right now--the idea that a person can be taken out of the context of their life and circumstances, and judged by strangers who have never had to struggle in the position that they're in.

I feel sad for you, either that you've had such a privileged life that you've never experienced true need, or that you've had such a horrible life that you've experienced true need and been denied solutions and therefore wish others to be denied them as well. Either way, I feel sad for you, for being in such a tiny bubble that you most likely won't escape from since you don't know your inside. My sincere hope for America right now is that some of these bubbles that people like you are in can pop, or that they can float away and leave the rest of us who have the capacity for empathy alone.

I would suggest that you educate yourself on current events and the ongoing struggles of people who are not in your bubble. But it's clear that even if you were to read a book that may challenge your comfortable assumptions, you'd most likely only read the blurb on the back, and then attack the author anonymously.

1/4/2017 10:13:56 pm

Outraged, your lack of empathy and lack of understanding of what life is really like for women like Francisca is astounding. You need to read this book, do some research (backed up by real facts), and think hard about your assumptions. I wonder how you would react and survive if you were in the shoes of someone like Francisca. Imagine her reality rather than spewing your hateful misinformation. Perhaps then you would find your own humanity.

1/4/2017 10:50:57 pm

Outraged, I am astounded at your interpretation of the lives of these women and begin to question whether we have even read the same book. Reading the views of others, it seems I am not alone. I have been privileged to lead a comfortable life, with many life choices, but I have met plenty of other women along the way who have not been so fortunate. Many are forced by necessity into situations which would not be of their choosing. Who would choose to work with pesticides? Who would choose to give birth to a child that could not survive? Who would choose to deliver and then raise a severely handicapped child? There are no financial gains that can adequately recompense for these circumstances. I hope you are merely ignorant, because otherwise you show yourself to be an individual incapable of empathy or compassion. Adriana not only wrote a book based on in-depth research but also demonstrated that she possessed both these qualities in abundance.

1/5/2017 12:41:05 am

Dear Outraged, How can you possibly defend the employer in all of this and dare say after the loss of a child they will just go on and make another! Quite frankly that outrages me. Where is your compassion for your fellow man.

Lesley Macdougall
1/5/2017 01:09:40 am

This was one of the best books. I look at people of all walks of life with a smile you don't know what some has been through.

1/5/2017 04:24:09 pm

“If you have no opposition in the place you serve, you’re serving in the wrong place.” ~ G. Campbell Morgan

Adriana is clearly serving in the right place. Not only is she giving voice to the voiceless, but she is educating a nation of increasingly intolerant and bigoted citizenry. Books like Looking for Esperanza need to be written, studied closely, and serve as models for social action and service. Social responsibility is a moral imperative for both the individual and the corporation, to say nothing of a duty to serve and protect the "lowest and the least."

1/5/2017 04:47:21 pm

Outraged, I read your vitriolic comments about the beautifully written , well researched book Looking for Esperanza , with a mixture of shock, dismay and sadness and shame. It is incredulous that you think these brave, incredibly strong women would choose this existence unless they were in absolute dire need. Note I use the word existence because it certainly isn't a life any of us would choose for our daughters or ourselves. I feel ashamed of a society that allows vulnerable people to be totally exploited and have their health put at risk because of the western worlds greed. You clearly lack any morale fibre , compassion or empathy. These women are human beings not the pariahs you portray them to be. No wonder today's world is in the terrible mess because of people like you who posses such appalling views on the less fortunate in society. I am grateful to the author for her thorough work on highlighting the awful plight of these women and their families. You should take a long hard look at yourself and what you believe and should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

1/5/2017 05:37:43 pm

Outraged: You are a hate monger and an unhappy little person. Enough said, we all agree that Looking for Esperanza was a well researched book on a highly deserved human condition. Please don't let your judgmental attitude fog your ability to see pain and suffering. I agree with others, you must have voted for Trump.

1/5/2017 05:42:12 pm

Dear Outraged
I am saddened by your comments, which demonstrate not only a lack of empathy, but a complete misunderstanding of the plight of these women so well researched by the author. There can be few people in the world who could have put these desperate women at their ease, gained their trust and enabled them to open their hearts to describe the pain and difficulties they were experiencing in their lives. The author has done this and more. She has allowed her readers to enter the lives of these young women and feel how they must survive, given their start and circumstances in life. What a privilege for us as readers. I am fortunate to have had a life where I have been cared for and loved. Perhaps you too have been fortunate, unlike these incredible women who dare to hope for a better life for themselves and their children. I hope you take time to reflect on a different perspective and read again "Looking for Esperanza" with a more enlightened mind. It is, after all, a fundamental human desire to hope.

marcia aldrich
1/5/2017 07:20:34 pm

I generally dismiss the comments like the ones Outrage made. They seem so ignorant, willfully so. To have no grasp of the legal protections afforded workers, all workers in the United States. Obviously these women's health was not protected--there was nothing legal about how the business treated them. I can't even begin to respond to the again willfully ignorant comments about how and why the women became pregnant. But after this election's results, I realize there are many citizens who simply don't have the facts and remain aggressively ignorant and angry, angry at the wrong people. Angry at these women--pointless. Be angry at the greedy business owners who created the problem.


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