CaminArte: Art Walking in Boyle Heights

Last modified on 2011-11-03 22:07:25 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Some have said it: “The Downtown L.A. Art Walk is too good for its own good.” Back in 2003, the little event meant to attract art fans started out with fewer than 100 visitors. But today, streets overflow with crowds reaching 30,000 who come out for bars, food trucks, restaurants, oh, and the art galleries.

You don’t have to imagine where that goes. Last month’s tragic car accident that killed an infant boy from Montebello brought on new rules and a city task force for public safety at tonight’s event, with a ban on food trucks and vendors on main Art Walk areas.

To raid on the whole L.A. Art Walk buzz, two miles east of downtown’s gallery row, a new little art event will debut Friday at the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market. CaminArte (clever little name huh?) is:

    “An intergenerational art gathering. Where artists can have a space to share, display and sell their artwork. Where community members can meet and greet, and share and dialogue with artists.”
    -From event Facebook page

In other words, it’s our version of an art walk and an alternative to the traffic jam of drunken out-of control partiers, which you sometimes still go to.

“This art walk is reflective of the community. A lot of people here speak Spanish and we wanted to be inclusive. That’s why we named it CaminArte, so they don’t feel foreign to it,” said Nico Avina from Merkado Negro Art Collective, the group who organized the event along with the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market.

Talks of art revival and an arts district along the 1st street corridor has been on many mouths for quite some time now. But as we’ve seen and as Avina points out, art has always been part of the community and it’s the locals taking action into their own hands instead of waiting for validation from city-imposed signage.

“It’s a continual process it’s not a renaissance; nothing ever died,” said Avina. “If we wait, we’ll have this when the community is no longer a reflection of us.”

Avina says although this month’s CaminArte is stationary, they are working on ways to connect with surrounding art spaces and eventually form a map for people to hit up places like Self Help Graphics, Centro de Comunicacion Comunitaria, Corazon Del Pueblo and Casa 0101 Theatre, all on 1st Street.

Somewhat unexpectedly, several events around the Mariachi Plaza are already scheduled for Friday: a carnival on the corner of 1st and Boyle, a workshop and graffiti battle pre-party at Self Help Graphics, not to mention the entertainment from Eastside Luv and The MBar.

Similar to the popular art walk tradition, CaminArte will take place every second Friday of the month at the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market at Mariachi Plaza Metro Station from 3pm-9:30pm. The free family event will feature musical performances, art booths, and a 16-foot wall exhibiting art by various local artists.

On the bill for Friday: Olmeca, Chicano Son, Cihuatl-Ce, guest DJs and work by nearly 30 artists including Ricardo Estrada, Raul Gonzales, Rosanna Esparza, Alfonso Aceves, Liliflor, Fransisco Enuf Garcia and more. Visit the event Facebook page here.

Q&A: The Democracy of Music in Boyle Heights

Last modified on 2011-11-03 22:07:40 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

I can’t say it’s a fact, but I’m pretty sure the first time I walked into Phillips Music Company on Brooklyn Avenue, my father held my hand tightly, in fear of my temptation to run off in a store with such expensive equipment.

The place was massive, and for a five-year-old like me, it was a playground—filled with shinny toys too heavy for me to lift and large bass drums perfect for hide and seek.

Eventually I would go there by myself; sometimes to make payments for my Dad’s layaway items: a bass and an amplifier, and later to accompany my sister who bought reeds for her middle school saxophone-playing days. I never bought anything myself, at least not until after the music store closed and made way for one of the many discount stores on the avenue.

This month, author, music critic, and USC professor Josh Kun will be presenting a project dedicated to the musical and cultural legacy of Boyle Heights through the story of the Phillips Music Company. The project includes a website, multimedia presentations, musical performances and spoken word tributes presented at two Grand Performances events made possible with support from the California Council for the Humanities.

I spoke to Josh about his findings and he explained the double sense of democracy that surrounded Phillips Music Co.

MN: Why Phillips Music Co.? How did this project come about?

JK: I research and teach a lot about cross-cultural exchanges within popular music. In the 90s, I was doing some research about these fairly obscure Jewish American performers who were starting to dabble in various Latin music and Jewish-Mexican exchanges and I started to hear references to this store in Boyle Heights. It sort of took on this mythical quality like it was this magic place in this magical neighborhood of Boyle Heights where people would share styles and share tastes and Mexican musicians would listen to Jewish music and Japanese Americans would listen to Mexican music…etc.
I ended up meeting one of the sons of the late owner, Bill Phillips, and I told him my general interests. The family started sharing their stories with me, and one day, on a total whim I guess, I made the mistake of saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we brought the store back to life for one night?” And of course on Aug. 27, we’re doing it.

MN: I actually visited the store as a kid. My dad would go often because he was a musician and so I have a few memories of the place. For those who aren’t familiar with Phillips Music Company, from your research, how do people describe it?

JK: The most common thing that everyone says is that they were never asked to leave. Everyone talks about how they would go in and usually wouldn’t have enough money to buy anything but they were never asked to leave. They would pick up instruments or pick up records and just hang out, look at stuff and listen. They could go in the back room and listen to bands rehearse or try out instruments. That shows that it was a true neighborhood place and everyone was always invited in.

MN: Referring to the title of this Thursday’s event, how does “democracy” help describe the early culture and music of Boyle Heights?

JK: The store is one kind of emblematic site when thinking about the history of Boyle Heights. Certainly Boyle Heights has been held up by many scholars and political scientists, especially in the formative years from the 1920s to the 1970s, as this model of multiracial, multicultural democratic L.A.— kind of proof that L.A. could pull it off it wanted to.

When Grand Performances was putting this together, they asked, “What does music has to do with democracy?” My first reaction was: Music is inherently a democratic act. If someone is a dictator then, the band doesn’t work; you have to learn how to listen. In order to play as a musician, you have to first listen to somebody else to know when to come in and I think that at the core of a functioning democracy, are citizens who listen to each other. There’s a kind of inherently democratic aesthetic and nature to performance itself; so for me, that a music store would be a model for a democratic way of life, in a neighborhood that itself was embodying a model of urban democracy, that was just too much to pass up.

MN: What were some of the early artists/bands active in Boyle Heights that perhaps visited the store?

JK: The first star to get famous out of Boyle Heights I think is Andy Russell, who was a big Mexican American pop star. He was seens as a heartthrob in the 40s. He was a good friend of Bill Phillips and was also a regular at the Phillips music store.

Often not thought of as Boyle Heights, but raised in Boyle Heights, is Norman Granz. He was arguably one of the most important jazz producers and promoters of the 20th century. He was Jewish American and he led the fight against segregation within jazz in the U.S. In the 1940s he organized big important concerts at the L.A. Philharmonic Auditorium, the first of which raised funds for the “Sleepy Lagoon” case all surrounded by the Zoot Suit Riots and he was very politically in Mexican American rights.

Fairly legendary figures in Mexican American music like Chico Sesma would go [to Phillips Music store] who later became a popular deejay. Paul Lopez was a major player in the Eastside big band jazz scene; he was a regular there. Much later the Los Lobos guys would always come through the store. Rudy Medina from The Brat shopped there a lot… tons of mariachi groups would buy instruments there, [Bill Phillips] also sold to the Roosevelt High School marching band.

MN: Can you talk about musical identity on the Eastside? Do you see any patterns, whether through sound or message throughout the various eras?

JK: One of the patterns stylistically or aesthetically is the kind of translation and transformation. If you look at the music movement by Mexican Americans in East L.A. since the 1940s, it’s music that’s based on a constant juggling of styles, but it’s also locally based. There’s a sense of using music to understand its identity to a local place, a local region. In terms of lyrics… certainly in the 60s, the level of political consciousness in pop music in East L.A. became very important, but I don’t think it’s been the only lyrical strain. If you look back at the main thing that’s run through here is that East L.A. has given us some of the best love songs ever written. Part of the tradition here, for me, is hybridity. One of the great traditional music styles of East L.A. is R&B with African American music transformed by Mexican Americans. What’s the traditional music of lowriders? Oldies, in most part by African American singers and musicians. And East L.A.’s been the capital or mecca in California for forwarding that kind of music.
There’s a long legacy of punk and rock, but especially punk in East L.A.— it’s been out of too many history books as far as I’m concerned. Seeing how much of the neighborhood has always had this sense of an East L.A. sound and that there’s a music identity to East L.A., that’s really important.

The House of Quality: Boyle Heights and the Music of Democracy - Thursday, August 4
A Night at The Phillips Music Company – Saturday, August 27, 2011
California Plaza Water Court
300-350 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
8:00 pm -Cover: FREE

Here’s a list of musical acts performing Aug. 27
Little Willie G. from Thee Midniters
June Kuramoto, Kimo Cornwell and Dan Kuramoto from the band Hiroshima
Ersi Arvizu from El Chicano
La Santa Cecilia
Rubén Guevara and the Eastside Luvers
Los Angeles Community Klezmer Band
Ceci Bastida
East L.A. Taiko and more

Photo from the Phillips Music Co. website. Visit them for more on the project.

Your Latest Tweets about your Favorite Eats in #BoyleHeights

Last modified on 2011-11-03 22:07:46 GMT. 3 comments. Top.

Photo from

Often when I tell people I’m from Boyle Heights, they make reference to a couple of things: Eastside Luv Wine Bar is popular amongst twenty and thirty somethings; Murals have also been brought up; And the obvious, but gladly not so prevalent these days: “Oh, East L.A.? Isn’t it scary?” (eye-roll).

But the most common reference has to be about food. Ahhh, yes, the food!

It’s nothing new. Bloggers, food critics, yelpers— foodies of all kinds, Eastsiders or not–have been hunting down street vendors and hitting up spots they‘ve heard/read about for years (we all remember the Breed St. Scene).

So if Boyle Heights has been deemed a “food desert,” how is it that we are highly recognized for our food?

Several street food vendors and restaurateurs I know attribute the popularity of our neighborhood’s food to the inherited Latino culture’s “love for making food.” They say it’s a satisfaction to watch people eat their food. Hmmm….I guess that’s why my favorite quesadilla vendor (no name dropping) always asks, “te gusto?” With a mouthful of cheese and crema, all I can do is give her a thumbs up.

When I talk to older generations of Boyle Heights residents, some of their fondest memories also include food. I wonder how many food critics flocked over in the 1930s and 40s to review places like the original Canter’s Deli on Brooklyn Avenue? Although, foodies are no longer searching for pickled herring or corned beef on rye—once popular eats in Boyle Heights— they do search for tacos, huaraches, pambazos, and quesadillas with lots of cheese and a great salsa.

Look at what “tweeteros” were nom-nom-ing on recently in Boyle Heights:

The best Mexican food in Los Angeles. (@ Manuel's Original El Tepeyac Cafe) [pic]:
Edward Padgett
The best Mexican food in Los Angeles. (@ Manuel's Original El Tepeyac Cafe) [pic]:
Edward Padgett

So bomb RT @ I checked in at Birrieria Jalisco (1845 E 1st St) on #Yelp
jesse barajas

In LA you an clash into different worlds in one day: now, at Antojitos Carmen in #boyleheights
arely villegas

@ this place is amazing! Don't trip on the drive its worth it!
Mica Rabineau

At my favorite place in the city of angels!!! Al and Beas!!
Jesse Medina

La Sonrisa de La Virgen Shines at Self Help Graphics’ Opening

Last modified on 2011-07-06 06:48:52 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Was it sad to move? Yes, of course it was. No one I’ve talked to has said otherwise. The colorful mosaic building that housed the renowned Self Help Graphics and Art since 1979 had to be packed up, cleaned up, and cleared out. Hundreds of prints, framed work, La gran madre press (an old printing press), and La Virgen were all transferred to their new Boyle Heights home—the Ocean Queen, a former fish packing plant.

But as printmaker Jose Alpuche told La Opinion, “El edificio no es lo que hace a self help graphics, sino la communidad artistica.” (The building doesn’t make Self Help Graphics, it’s the artistic community.)

And that rang true this weekend. After a few months of settling in their new space at 1300 East First Street in Boyle Heights, Self Help Graphics and Art officially opened to the public with their annual print fair and exhibition on Sunday. The event drew not only Eastsiders, but art enthusiasts from all over L.A. there to pick up prints and greet La Virgen de Guadalupe at her new home, who for many SHG artists signifies a source of inspiration. Although they’ve hosted several workshops and events since moving in, this weekend served as a welcoming— appropriately titled “Revival.”

“Having [the print fair] was a wonderful way to invite our community into our new home to view works from the incredible artists we work with while imagining the possibilities of Self Help’s future,” said executive director Evonne Gallardo.

The move was not so much by choice but by necessity. The space at 3802 Cesar Chavez Avenue, which previously operated out of an office building on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, had faced several financial challenges. After the Archdiocese of Los Angeles sold the building to private owners, the overwhelming rent forced them to look for alternatives. “As hard as it was going to be to separate from this building the need to move was much more compelling than the need to stay,” said Gallardo.

Today Self Help pays a much lower rent at its new space, which was attained after partnering with the California Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles and is shared with Ball Nogues, a large scale installation studio.

Now, the art center that for decades has been a primary source for Chicano/a art will sit as the first point of entry over the First Street Bridge and into the Boyle Heights Arts District. “It’s exciting,” said Gallardo about the creativity that surrounds. She says Self Help will continue its mission to serve the community and nurture emerging artists but also and hopes to collaborate with the already existing cultural arts spaces nearby. The one thing Gallardo says Self Help will have to change: the building’s exterior ocean liner look.

  • Watch an audio slideshow of Self Help transporting La Virgen de Guadalupe from East L.A. to Boyle Heights, narrated by Executive Director Evonne Gallardo.
  • View our Calendar for events and workshops at Self Help Graphics and check out their website here to sign up for their newsletter.
  • The Summer that Celebrated Boyle Heights

    Last modified on 2011-09-14 22:20:36 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    In the past I’ve tweeted: “If Boyle Heights had ears, they’d be ringing right now,”— My exact thought Saturday night at Grand Performances’ Tongue and Groove, a 7-year-old on-going literary series produced by Conrad Romo.

    The event was the first of seven summer shows in a series titled Boyle Heights: The Other L.A. The series highlights the neighborhood’s historic cultural diversity through Grand Performances’ “Changing Neighborhoods, Changing Cultures” initiative sponsored by National Endowment for the Arts. Romo, host and reader at the event, gathered a diverse group of performers to celebrate the neighborhood where he was born and raised.

    Spoken word, letters, poetry, and music told stories of the diverse populations that existed in Boyle Heights. One remembered the Japanese Americans transferred from Roosevelt High School to internment camps; another told of Jewish kids introduced to tacos near Evergreen Cemetery; in the second act, Josefina Lopez described her journey from Mexico to Los Angeles; and David Kipen gave us a run along First Street, throwing shout outs to the present locals like Corazon Del Pueblo, Primera Taza, Un Solo Sol and Eastside Luv.

    A photo slideshow displayed the sights and people of Boyle Heights, past and present, while the Boyle Heights-based band Ollin, played “Boyle Heights Boogie,” the bouncy ska and Jewish-inspired tune.

    The audience in attendance was probably larger than expected for a reading event on a Saturday night, at least from my judgment. And the laughter sparked by Xavi Moreno’s Spanglish wit— describing life in Boyle Heights— proved there were several cultures in attendance (although still not as diverse as the neighborhood we heard stories about).

    Although not all readers were once residents of Boyle Heights, they had some connection to the neighborhood—though memories, family, or experience. In additon to the mentioned, readers also included Amy Uyematsu, Momo Yashima, Marvin Farber, Ralph Brannen, Simone Gad and Luis Rodriguez.

    Here’s a list of the remaining Grand Performances events for the 2011 Boyle Heights Series (I would say do a little research and make your pick):

    Fri. June 24- Charles Phoenix Los Angelesland
    Sat. July 9- One Night, One World, One Stage
    Thur. July 24- The Traveling Pickle Factory
    Thur. August 4- The House of Quality: Boyle Heights and the Music of Democracy
    Sat. August 20- Exene and Phranc
    Sat. August 27- A Night at the Phillips Music Company

    NOTE: Some are slowly finding out we have a little something called “culture” in our side of town. And if they didn’t know, leave it to the tours that flow through our streets to fill them in. If you see people snapping photos in your hood on Sunday, July 24 and Sunday, August 21, POSE! They paid $25 for a walking tour curated by L.A. Commons

    Watch a video from Ollin’s Saturday night performance of “Boyle Heights Boogie”

    Remembering Japanese-American Soldiers

    Last modified on 2011-06-11 02:14:56 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    By Steve Saldivar

    Japanese-American soldiers were remembered Monday at the 61st annual Memorial Day service for the Nikkei Veterans of the Southland of All Wars at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, the burial site of four Japanese American Medal of Honor recipients.

    New Media Center Opens in Boyle Heights

    Last modified on 2011-05-30 21:44:06 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    Looks like creative community additions to the 1st street corridor continue to pop up in Boyle Heights. Last Saturday, Centro de Comunicación Comunitaria, an independent multimedia center, community space and book shop, opened its doors to the neighborhood. The center acts as the physical hub for Producciones Cimarron, an independent media collective founded in 2008 that works to produce documentary content focusing on social justice and cultural issues. Currently, Centro de Comunicacion is hosting a community internet radio show, Radio Sombra, which can be heard on 103.3 FM. Other developing projects include a community based video news show, video editing bays and audio production where community members are welcome to participate and contribute ideas to cover the “political and cultural realities” of their neighborhood.

    Saturday’s event featured speakers Carlos Montes, the veteran Chicano activist who was arrested on charges dealing with a firearm code after L.A. Sheriff’s Department SWAT Team and members of the FBI raided his home on May 17, and Luis Rodriguez, co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar who expressed the importance of community spaces, activism and independent media.

    Listen to an interview with Centro de Comunicación’s lead organizer, Marco Amador.

    Centro de Comunicación Comunitaria
    1214 East 1st Street, Boyle Heights, CA 90033

    Book shop open weekends from 11am-4pm
    For more information visit their website or like them on Facebook

    More on Los Mariachis

    Last modified on 2011-04-04 05:30:41 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    In my many files of video, photos, and audio, I have a number of interviews with mariachis. Of course, it’s obvious that trying to capture the essence of Boyle Heights I would do a story on the Mariachi Plaza musicians–their instruments, their charro suits, and now, their change of landscape–it’s all right there, in one corner. Truth is, I wanted to do something different than the stories we’ve seen, read or heard…there’s so much behind this culture I’d like to explore! So, I’ll keep at it.

    In the meanwhile, Southern California Public Radio put on an interactive multimedia page on Boyle Heights with a video featuring the life and legacy of mariachis. Filmed and edited by Grant Slater with some interviews by Leslie Berenstein-Rojas.

    On the Topic of Water…

    Last modified on 2011-03-22 18:24:09 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    As you may or may not know, March 22 marks World Water Day. So on this day, countries around the world promote activities and recommendations to bring awareness on the issues surrounding our worldwide water crisis.

    There are several ways to participate. For starters, you can do like me and use a Brita dispenser that you fill straight from your sink (you can score cheap dispensers and filters at the many closeout stores in Boyle Heights).
    But if you’re dining out during this World Water Week (March 20-26) you can participate in UNICEF’s Tap Project— where you will pay $1 for a glass of tap water you normally get for free at participating restaurants. The funds raised will support UNICEF’s efforts to bring clean and accessible water to millions of children around the world.

    A couple of Eastside joints are participating, including Café In the Heights in Lincoln Heights and The York in Highland Park. For more participating restaurants click here.

    Talking about AGUA, The Estria Foundation unveiled its first mural from their Water Writes campaign this weekend at KIPP LA Prep in Boyle Heights. The project will bring water-themed murals to 10 cities around the world to help communities express their perspective on water issues. It was nice to see our neighbors as the featured artists: Erin Yoshi, Raul Gonzalez, Ricardo Estrada, and Vyal Reyes,

    Hear more about the project below

    Water Writes LA by jessicap12

    Watch a slideshow below

    Com-unidad: The East Side Drum Circle

    Last modified on 2011-02-09 22:05:35 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    If you happened to walk anywhere along Hollenbeck Park last Saturday afternoon, chances are you heard the sounds of the East Side Drum Circle. Eastsiders, old and young, came together to celebrate community while banging away at drums and shaking whatever maraca they found, or made.

    Check out this video from the great folks at LA Mina

    The East Side Drum Circle will now be a bi-weekly event. Join the circle every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 12-3pm.
    Bring any instrument you’d like– buckets, ollas, water gallons, welcome
    Hollenbeck Park
    415 S. St Louis St
    Boyle Heights, CA

    Photography: Norteño Musicians in Boyle Heights

    Last modified on 2011-01-23 07:33:19 GMT. 2 comments. Top.

    Photographer Juan Posada shares a few shots of Norteño musicians in Boyle Heights. Check out his website here for more photos.

    On Cesar Chavez, outside El Apetito, the Norteño musicians gather before playing gigs or doing their rounds in the local restaurants. Photo by Juan Posada

    “A Day of Arte” in Boyle Heights

    Last modified on 2011-01-18 10:01:10 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    Last Saturday Primera Taza Coffee House hosted “A Day of Arte” to introduce Community C.H.E.E.R., an organization that will offer various programs including music, art, dance, comedy, literacy, healthy living and more. They are currently enrolling students for their Apex Rockstar Music Academy and hope to have their programs running in the next coming weeks. Stop by the for more information (right next to Primera Taza) or reach them on Facebook for updates on their programs.

    Watch highlights of their inauguration celebration.

    Community C.H.E.E.R.
    1852 E. 1st St.
    Boyle Heights, 90033

    Do you know Los Reyes Magos?

    Last modified on 2012-01-04 21:56:48 GMT. 2 comments. Top.

    Almost every 6th of January, my family gathers around a large donut-shaped bread called “la rosca.” We wait for the bread to be cut according to the number of people present, then we each take a slice– peeking curiously at each other’s pieces. I’ve always found the rosca to be too plain for my taste but I try to eat as much as I need to find what we’re all looking for: the monito. So, whoever has the luck to bite into the tiny plastic doll that represents baby Jesus, throws a party- yes, we follow that one too. But what about the other traditions I vaguely remember? The ones with those dudes, Los Reyes Magos… The ones my parents used to practice and somehow forgot about after Santa Claus showed up all flashy in his bright red suit.

    I went around to ask mis neighbors how much they knew about El Día de Los Reyes Magos, listen below.

    I found out a little more than the shoe thing while talking to people. I knew this holiday was celebrated in other Latin American countries besides Mexico but I didn’t know several other countries around the world observed it in various ways (it makes sense if it’s rooted in Christianity/Catholicism ). I wonder if they do the rosca with the baby too… In Mexico, the date marks the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar who traveled from afar, bearing gifts for baby Jesus. Most people exchange gifts on this day, but I’ve heard that Christmas seems to be replacing Jan. 6 as the main gift-giving day in some parts of Mexico. Are you serious? That old St. Nick has no shame, I bet it’s all his fault.

    In my quest for more Reyes Magos traditions I stopped by La Fama Bakery, (not my usual spot but I was close by). Antonio was nice enough to show me the process of making a rosca.

    Panaderia La Fama
    420 N. Ford Blvd
    Los Angeles, Ca 90022
    Open from 4am-9pm on Rosca Day!

    Tamales… “Es una Chinga!”

    Last modified on 2011-01-23 07:39:41 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

    El Primo shadowed his mom in the kitchen as she prepared her batch of tamales for the holidays.

    She sums it up well, “Es una chinga!”

    Tamales from El Primo on Vimeo.

    The New Boyle Hotel

    Last modified on 2011-01-23 07:50:45 GMT. 1 comment. Top.

    This week, construction began for the renovation of the historic Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block located in front of the Mariachi Plaza. This particularly excites me because for many years, the corner where the Boyle Hotel stands was my daily companion- my school bus stop. A lot has changed since my high school years, especially on the corner of 1st and Boyle, but I’m happy to see that this project, led by The East Los Angeles Community Corporation, will be preserving the historical structure and will continue to provide a hub for the community’s mariachis.

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