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Ethnic Studies programs face obstacles

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On Oct. 9, the Swarthmore Indigenous Students’ Association highlighted in their demands to the college that the school does not have an Indigenous Studies program and offers few courses in indigenous studies in general. The creation and backing of ethnic studies programs has lagged behind other departments for many years, due to structural and institutional obstacles.

Students have called for a Black Studies major since at least the 1970s, as reported in the Feb. 29,1972 issue of The Phoenix. At that time, the Student Council endorsed a Black Studies major, as proposed by the Swarthmore African-American Students’ Association (SASS), and supported SASS’ proposal to revive an Ad Hoc Committee on Black Studies to discuss the idea further. Answering faculty questions about the proposal, a member of SASS said that “Swarthmore is coming late to the black studies field.”

Another Phoenix article — this one from November 20th, 2003 — said that many students in a debate about the issue “felt that there should be a major in black or Africana studies, but opinion differed on whether or not a separate department for black/Africana studies should be created, and, if so, what the major should focus on.”

Members SASS and head of the Black Studies program Nina Johnson were not able to be reached for comment.

Black Studies is still not a major and is a interdisciplinary program rather than a department, offering honors and course minors. Latino and Latin American Studies (LALS), and Asian Studies programs are interdisciplinary programs, not departments. As detailed on the college’s website, the Black Studies program offers honors and course minors, the LALS program offers honors and course minors along with a special major, and the Asian Studies Program offers honors and course majors and minors.

Some of the college’s peer institutions have majors or departments in these or related fields, but others have only minors or concentrations. For example, while Amherst has departments and majors in Black Studies, Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Latinx and Latin American Studies, Williams has concentrations in Africana Studies and Latino Studies and a department in Asian Studies.

Provost Tom Stephenson outlined the process for creating and expanding interdisciplinary programs. He said that programs originate from faculty proposals based on the need for more curriculum in these areas. The authorization to offer a minor comes with the establishment of the program, and programs must apply to offer regular majors. Criteria to expand or establish a program include a “compelling argument” from faculty and adequate staffing to run the program.

Karen Avila ‘20, a board member of ENLACE, the college’s Latinx student group, believes that professor retention is critical for the survival of ethnic studies programs. She called Milton Machuca-Galvez, a visiting professor in Latino and Latin American Studies, “the backbone of the Latino Studies department,” and said that other students in ENLACE agreed with her.

“I still don’t understand why his position is not secured within the Latino Studies department,” Avila said. “That’s a very significant defect in sustaining the LALS department. If you can’t even keep a professor who clearly is so fundamental to the program, you’re not interested in making the program something institutionalized, because you’re not listening to students’ feedback in the first place.”

ENLACE students would also be interested in expanding the LALS program more generally, according to Avila, but she said they couldn’t do it on their own.

“I feel like we’re all on board if there was something that the institution would offer us a chance to partake in,” she said. “We can’t forefront a project; we need some support.”

Professor Edwin Mayorga, an Education professor affiliated with LALS, is offering some of that support. He has started talking with students and faculty about expanding ethnic studies and organizing the programs in a more sustainable way.

Addressing why ethnic studies programs have not become traditional departments, Stephenson said it’s largely because of “institutional culture.”

“We have chosen to look at [ethnic studies] as best taught in the context of the traditional disciplines,” Stephenson said. “I think that’s been the approach of the current faculty that we’ve had who are staffing the Black Studies interdisciplinary program; that’s not to say it won’t evolve in the future.”

As an example of how the programs could change, he cited the way the Film and Media Studies has evolved from an interdisciplinary program to a department that offers a regular major.

But Mayorga questioned the stability of interdisciplinary programs.

“The suggestion of interdisciplinary focus seems premature as a rationalization” for not having more stable programs or departments, said Mayorga. He said that the LALS program was “very fragile” and that the various ethnic studies programs often relied on visiting professors, or, in the case of indigenous studies, student-run courses. He called for more conversation across constituencies and then translating that conversation into action.

In contrast, Professor Christopher Fraga, program coordinator for LALS, said that one of the LALS program’s “greatest strengths is that it is robustly interdisciplinary,” and also pointed out the transnational perspective of the program.

“In the past three to five years, there’s been a pretty concerted effort, I think, to broaden the scope of the courses that we’re offering to include not only Latin America as a geopolitical region but also Latina/Latino/Latinx experiences in the U.S. as well,” said Fraga. He particularly mentioned Professor Désirée Díaz’s focus on Latinx studies as responding to “a felt need” of both students and faculty.

Still, Fraga acknowledged the program’s instability.

“I think it’s fair to see the program as being in a moment of transition or transformation right now,” he said, largely because the faculty associated with it were predominantly junior faculty, although many of them are on tenure track.

Although the proposals to expand interdisciplinary programs have to come from faculty, Fraga pointed out the value of student voices in influencing the expansion of LALS.

“Student interest has been very powerful in our case, and I would also just take a moment to say that student interest in other kinds of ethnic studies programs is also going to be a really important thing for our institution; I’m thinking of, for example, Asian-American Studies,” Fraga said.

That student interest is definitely present from members of ENLACE, the college’s Latinx group and the Swarthmore Asian Organization (SAO).

“What we want to do is kind of different from Asian Studies, what we want to do is Asian-American Studies,” said co-president of SAO Josie Hung.

She highlighted the dearth of Asian-American studies courses, which have been largely supported by Bakirathi Mani, a Professor of English who teaches an Asian American Literature course. According to Hung, members of SAO have talked to Professor Mani about possible barriers to expanding the courses on Asian-American studies.

“What admin like to see is numbers. That’s super hard because sometimes [Mani’s] classes would be really popular, sometimes they wouldn’t have that many people, and you have to show people that there’s interest,” said Hung. “But we’ve also talked about how there’s this cycle that’s going on: if you don’t have any courses that are offered about your identity, sometimes you don’t know you need it, or you don’t know there’s these issues that exist, or you might have other interests and it’s nice to not always have to address only your identity.”

She called for faculty members teaching courses that discuss race and ethnicity to go beyond the black/white binary and to work in other ways to support Asian-American studies.

“I think the push has to come from faculty members, because I think they’re the ones that suggest inviting or hiring other faculty members,” said Hung.

William Gardner, the program coordinator for Asian Studies, also highlighted Professor Mani’s role.

[Professor Mani] is clearly an important faculty member and has been responsible to a large extent for holding up the Asian-American part of the curriculum at Swarthmore, together with different visiting faculty over the years, but I think it’s still something where we’d like to see more permanent faculty,” said Gardner.

He also mentioned Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant and her new course on Taiko and the Asian American Experience as an important addition to the program. But Hung said there was pushback to having Bryant’s Taiko and the Asian American Experience course under Asian Studies. Regardless, Gardner emphasized the program’s support of Asian-American studies and work on the Asian diaspora.

“My sense from the faculty [in Asian Studies] is that we’re open to see how Asian American Studies and ethnic studies at the college evolve,” said Gardner, “We think it’s a really important part of what Swarthmore should be teaching, and what students should be learning.”

Similarly to Asian Studies’ attempt to include Asian-American Studies, LALS faculty members have tried to include indigenous studies, according to Fraga.

“I think particularly Professor Machuca and myself as the two anthropologists contributing to the program have tried to ensure that indigenous perspectives and indigenous history in the region are featuring in our courses,” said Fraga. “If there were dedicated positions for people doing indigenous studies, absolutely LALS would be the kind of program to write letters of support, to include courses as being cross-listed, assuming that they’re relevant. In principle I think that there’s a great opportunity for allyship there, and a great opportunity for collaboration. I’m not aware of any specific opportunities that are currently on the table, but I wouldn’t preclude that from being the case in the future.”

Fraga emphasized the limitations of these opportunities, saying that “there’s not a blank check to just bring in all of the different kinds of scholars that everyone in the college would like to have present.”

Members of SISA also could not be reached for comment.

Despite efforts from students and faculty to expand and stabilize ethnic studies programs, changes are likely to take a long time and a great deal of work.

Machuca-Galvez must stay: students hope to ensure return of professor

in Campus Journal by

Karen Avila ’20 enrolled in Professor Milton Machuca-Galvez’ “Drugs, Gangs, and US Imperialism” class during her first semester of college. After a few months of knowing Avila, Machuca-Galvez nominated himself to be her mentor for the Rubin Scholars Program.

“I had a lot of people tell me about it but I never really had someone push themselves to get myself to apply to that, and make sure that I could take the classes,” Avila said.

As a Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies, Machuca-Galvez is the Head Coordinator of the Latino Studies Department.

“A lot of people say, you know, he is the Latino Studies Department. He makes sure that you know he covers his classes, he makes time for his office hours for people to visit him, I have so many friends who are really close to him and go to his office hours, he coordinates the budgeting for the department, so whenever like ENLACE [the Latinx student group on campus], needs money for an event, we know the Latino studies department … will help us.”

Unfortunately, as of right now, Machuca-Galvez’ contract is not being renewed for the upcoming year.

“He’s just like … he is the department and losing him it’s like losing the whole department. I don’t know, it’s frustrating,” Avila said.

Along with his central role in the department in general, Avila emphasized the important mentorship relationships Machuca-Galvez has crafted with students.

“My RA, she’s really close to him, and she’s had Thanksgiving at his house. You know, like just having that connection, it’s just so nice. And me not being able to know him, as close as people who I know now, upperclassmen — like juniors know him is really sad because I would want him to be my mentor. I recently had to switch my mentor and ask [someone else] to be my mentor, because, like, [Machuca-Galvez] doesn’t show up on the mentors list for Rubin Scholars. And that’s horrible,” Avila said.

These relationships expand far beyond office hours and holiday home visits.

“He definitely pushes you. He asks you ‘how are you,’ ‘how are you doing.’ That’s like his check-up on you. ‘What do you need,’ ‘what do you have to do,’ and ‘what are you going to do to get that.’ And he just like walks you through, talks it out with you, and you process it in your head, but then he makes you comfortable enough to say it out loud and ‘plan yourself’ out loud. I think that’s a really important role, [that he is] listening, providing kind of like a parental figure to a lot of us,” Avila said.

In addition to emotional and organizational support, Machuca-Galvez finds ways to provide students with inroads to research.

“With his own money, he would buy like pupusas, and he’d buy us drinks, in exchange for us helping him transcribe … his documents for his research projects, so also giving us like a little way in into his research, and involving us,” Avila said “Not just us being involved in his classroom, but way more than that.”

In response to reality of potentially losing Machuca-Galvez, Avila, in collaboration with ENLACE, has written a petition rallying for his contract to be renewed. While Machuca-Galvez is not a part of this process, many of his students are.

“We just finished drafting the letter, we’re in the works of that. A lot of people have just like been keeping it within us, just because he doesn’t want any part of it … So the main point [of the petition is that] as the Head of the Department of Latino Studies, he is the department, he offers a lot of support for his students, he is a shoulder to cry on, he is here to listen — he’s just there for his students,” Avila said.

The argument against the use of the term “Latinx”

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

As we continually search for ways to improve gender inclusivity in Spanish, we have come up with a myriad of broad language such as Latino/a and Latin@. The most recent of these solutions is the term “Latinx.” In our opinion, the use of the identifier “Latinx” as the new standard should be discouraged because it is a buzzword that fails to address any of the problems within Spanish on a meaningful scale. This position is controversial to some members of the Latino community here at Swarthmore and beyond, but the other positions within the community also deserve to be heard. We are Latinos, proud of our heritage, that were raised speaking Spanish. We are not arguing against gender-inclusive language. We have no prejudice towards non-binary people. We see, however, a misguided desire to forcibly change the language we and millions of people around the world speak, to the detriment of all. Under the “degenderization” of Spanish advocated by proponents of words such as “Latinx” words such as latinos, hermanos, and niños would be converted into latinxs, hermanxs, and niñxs respectively. This is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism — the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it.

The term “Latinx” is used almost exclusively within the United States. According to Google trend data, “Latinx” came into popular use in October of 2014 and has since been widely popularized by American blogs and American institutions of higher education. The term is virtually nonexistent in any Spanish-speaking country. This is problematic for many reasons. It serves as a prime example of how English speakers can’t seem to stop imposing their social norms on other cultures. It seems that U.S. English speakers came upon Spanish, deemed it too backwards compared to their own progressive leanings, and rather than working within the language to address any of their concerns, “fixed” it from a foreign perspective that has already had too much influence on Latino and Latin American culture. The vast majority of people in Latin America from personal experience, would likely be confused and even offended by this attempt to dictate for them how their language is to be structured and how they ought to manage their social constructs. It is interesting to observe how many “Latinx” activists become outraged when a non-Latino person wears traditional Latino costumes such as sombreros without understanding the significance of what they are wearing when they themselves participate in a form of reverse appropriation. To be clear – this is not to say these Latinos are detached from the culture, but rather taking American ideals and social beliefs and inserting into a language that has widespread use in places outside of the U.S. Rather than taking from a culture or people a part of them without respect or reverence for it, this reverse appropriation aims to put into a culture a part of one’s own beliefs. This is not the forced and unwarranted taking of culture but rather the forced and unnecessary giving of incompatible segments of U.S. culture.

Perhaps the most ironic failure of the term is that it actually excludes more groups than it includes. By replacing o’s and a’s with x’s, the word “Latinx” is rendered laughably incomprehensible to any Spanish speaker without some fluency in English. Try reading this “gender neutral” sentence in Spanish: “Lxs niñxs fueron a lx escuelx a ver sus amigxs.” You literally cannot, and it seems harmless and absurd until you realize the broader implication of using x as a gender neutral alternative. It excludes all of Latin America, who simply cannot pronounce it in the U.S. way. It does not provide a gender-neutral alternative for Spanish-speaking non-binary individuals and thus excludes them. It excludes any older Spanish speakers who have been speaking Spanish for more than 40 years and would struggle to adapt to such a radical change. It effectively serves as an American way to erase the Spanish language. Like it or not, Spanish is a gendered language. If you take the gender out of every word, you are no longer speaking Spanish. If you advocate for the erasure of gender in Spanish, you then are advocating for the erasure of Spanish.

What then, is the solution if not “Latinx”? It may surprise you to learn that a gender-neutral term to describe the Latin-American community already exists in Spanish. Ready for it? Here it is: Latino. Gender in Spanish and gender in English are two different things. Even inanimate objects are given gendered -o/s and -a/s endings, although it is inherently understood that these objects are not tied to the genders assigned to them. In Spanish, when referencing  groups, we only use the feminine ending when referring to an exclusively female group. On the other hand, when we refer to groups using the masculine ending, the group could either be exclusively males or a mix of people. For example, when someone says “los cubanos” an English speaker may instinctively interpret this as “the male Cubans,” but a Spanish speaker simply hears “the Cubans.”  In fact, the only way to refer to a group that is not exclusively female in Spanish is by using the masculine ending. Therefore, according to the grammatical rules of Spanish, the term “Latinos” is already all-inclusive in terms of gender. For those that want the singular form of “Latino” without the association with gender, alternate forms exist — one can state their ancestry (“soy de Cuba/Mexico/Venezuela/etc”) or “soy de Latinoamerica”. Ultimately, the problem here is that “Latinx” does not fit within Spanish, and never will. X as a letter at the ends of words in Spanish is unpronounceable, not conjugatable, and frankly confusing. These alternate options both respect those on the non-binary spectrum and respect the dignity of the Spanish language.

We understand that some people may still support the term “Latinx”. Ultimately, we will never attempt to force anyone to personally define themselves in any way. If after reading this article anyone still feels that calling themselves “Latinx” instead of any other term brings them more happiness, we will respect that choice. However, we are strongly opposed to and cannot support this particular terminology becoming the new norm or creeping any further into a language it does not belong in. Some may be put off by gender in Spanish. But we are offended by the attempted degradation of our language at the hands of a foreign influence. “Latinx” undoubtedly stems from good intentions but is ultimately also clearly representative of a poorly thought out and self-defeating execution as well as a lack of respect for the sovereignty of Spanish.

Latin American Studies program to be renamed to include Latinos

in Around Campus/News by

As a product of increasing student demand for a Latino Studies program as well as the recent emergence of Latino studies as a more developed academic subfield, the Latin American Studies Program at the college will be renamed the Latin American and Latino Studies Program effective June 1st. The movement for the program change was led in large part by Latin American Studies Program Coordinator Milton Machuca-Galvez, who will continue his leadership of the program for another two years.

“The name change recognizes, one, that Latin America is not an isolated entity – that the most recent development of Latin America is linked to the United States – and two, because of a series of historical circumstances – depending on which country – Latinos are present in the United States,” Machuca-Galvez said. “People who have links to Latin America are present here, and they are a force: an economic force, a political force, a social force. I think we need to make the connection between the two because one is not independent of the other. They are intimately connected.”

Prior to the name change, the academic focus of the Latin American Studies Program was centered almost exclusively on Latin American issues. According to Tom Stephenson, Provost at the college, the program was established in the mid 1990s by a number of faculty from a diverse range of departments who had a shared interest in issues of Latin America. While some courses – such as “Mexicans in Pennsylvania” – handled topics of Latino studies, the primary focus of the program was on issues pertaining to Latin America. However, according to Diego Armus, Professor of History at the college, these two topics are sufficiently unique to each warrant substantial academic study.

“First thing to take into account is that Latin Americans are not Latinos,” Armus said. “Latin American issues are not Latino issues. Both peoples and problems are mutually connected but are not the same. Latin America is an uneasy category that could be defined in geographical, cultural, historical terms, encompassing the vast and diverse areas southward of the Rio Grande. Latinos are Latin Americans who immigrated to the US as well as their descendants born in the US.”

Armus and Machuca-Galvez both explained that today, an increasing number of these descendants of Latin American immigrants are enrolling at the college, seeking academic instruction that can speak to both their Latino and Latin American identities.

“In many circumstances I hear that students want to understand where their parents came from,” Machuca-Galvez said. “Some of them have inherited the language, but nothing more than that. Students want to understand themselves, where they are coming from. I think at least at an intellectual level we can help them to understand that journey. How did that happen? How did they end up here?”

Maria Castañeda ’18, who was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. when she was three, explained that the name change is meaningful to her because it is indicative of a reorientation of the program that will allow her to engage with her experiences on an intellectual level.

“Though I identify myself as Mexican, and I don’t really identify myself as Mexican-American, still my experiences are very much shaped as a Latina in the United States,” Castañeda said. “The courses that I’ve taken in Latin American Studies that are related to Latinos have allowed me to explore the different sides of my identity and the history of Latinos in the U.S.”

Joelle Bueno ’18 agreed. “I’m a white latina, so I’m half Cuban and then I’m Jewish, so that’s always been something that I’ve had to understand and kind of understand what that means,” said Bueno. “Learning about Latino history would be really powerful for me in understanding my people even if it’s not directly my people.”

Bueno explained that throughout her freshman year, her experiences engaging with her identity at Swarthmore have primarily occurred in non-academic places.

“I hadn’t thought about it too much institutionally because it’s naturally something that’s important to me,” Bueno said. “I am Latina, and this year has been really interesting in that I’ve come into my own in a lot of ways. I’ve expanded ownership over my identity a lot and participated in Enlace, and I’m planning on going to Cuba and identifying with my background.”

Liliana Rodriguez, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at the college, explained that Latino studies could serve as an important means for Latino students to understand their individual experiences within the context of what can be a difficult transition to college life.

“Like most elite colleges, Swarthmore is an incredibly rich place with a history of having catered primarily to wealthy, white families for most of its history,” Rodriguez said.  “Even today, about half of students come from the top income bracket in the country. That is a very different experience than that of the average American. Students from different backgrounds experience culture shock when arriving and for much of their time here. Ethnic studies courses, like those in a Latino Studies program, are one important way to help ease this transition because it provides students with the vocabulary to understand the systemic structures that impact their daily life.”

Armus explained that these concerns are particularly relevant with an increasingly large percentage of Latino students on campus.

“The growing presence of Latinos in the Swarthmore student body is not a novelty,” Armus said. “With their own organizations and clubs, Latino students are becoming a very active group able to verbalize their own demands, among them more Latino focused courses and more faculty with specific expertise on Latino issues.”

Castañeda agreed.

“Since we have more Latinos on campus, we need to change the department to fit the needs of the students,” she explained. “I know a lot of Latinos – at least the ones I’ve talked to – said they wanted courses that related more to their experiences in the United States, so in that way the classes are changing with the influence of the incoming students.”

This is not the first time that the Latin American Studies Program has pursued a name change, however. In 2011, in order to reorient itself with a greater focus on Latino issues and better serve student needs, faculty in the program petitioned the Curriculum Committee to change the name of the program, but their request was denied due to insufficient resources both financially and in terms of faculty. Four years later, however, the situation is different.

Stephenson explained that the name change was approved this spring largely because it was clear the program was handling a wider scope of material.

“The name change arose from a recognition that the program has expanded its curriculum to better reflect the integration of Latino research and scholarship into what is now clearly an interdependent Latin America-Latino experience,” Stephenson said. “It reflects a growing recognition of a curricular reality ‘on the ground’ and is also a statement about about how globally interdependent the field has become.  In that sense the student interests and the curricular and faculty realities are reflections of the same phenomenon, and it is important that we’re responsive to that.”

According to both Armus and Machuca-Galvez, a significant impetus for the college’s acceptance of the name change may have been the establishment of Latino Studies programs at several peer institutions in recent years.

“The intention has been to do at Swarthmore what has already been done in similar programs at many of our peer institutions, among them Vassar, Amherst, Dartmouth, Pomona, as well as many larger ones like the University of Pennsylvania,” Armus explained. “And what they have done, even with limited faculty resources, is to acknowledge the existence of this emerging field and incorporate it in the agenda of the already working Latin American Studies programs.”

Most notably, in 2013, Haverford and Bryn Mawr combined their Spanish Departments and Latin American Studies programs to create a joint Latino, Latin American, and Iberian Studies Program. Machuca-Galvez says he plans to work with coordinators of this program in order to facilitate the growth of the new Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the college. In the past, he explained, students have filled in the gaps in curriculum of the Latin American Studies program at the college with coursework offered at Bryn Mawr and Haverford.

“I’ve looked at some of the classes they offer, but the courses here have met my needs so far, so I haven’t felt the need to take classes elsewhere.” Castañeda said. “I have heard from other students that their program is much more developed than ours, though.”

Still, Machuca-Galvez does not believe that reliance on the Tri-college consortium can be seen as a legitimate solution.

“I think they complement a lot of the things that we do here,” said Professor Machuca-Galvez. “But it seems to me that the biggest challenge for us is the distance. For our students to go there takes a lot of commitment and for their students to come here takes a lot of commitment.”

In an effort to resolve the shortcomings of the program, faculty in the Latin American Studies program have worked to promote the visibility and expansion of the program over the past two years under the leadership of Machuca-Galvez. With the added resources of a number of new Latin American Studies faculty in the Spanish and Education departments as well as in the Sociology and Anthropology Department, Machuca-Galvez has worked to expand the curriculum of the Latin American Studies program in order to address a greater diversity of student interests in new and exciting ways. A large part of this work has been the effort to incorporate the experiences of Latinos living in Philadelphia into the program’s study.

“In the past 10 years, the presence of the Latin American population there has grown exponentially,” Machuca-Galvez explained. “We are lucky that we have this community there. It is vibrant, changing, and promising. Students can learn a lot, and we can help a lot… It’s good that we have these communities that are so close and so willing to share.”

Going forward, Machuca-Galvez plans to add a number of courses, including a course on Mexican food in Philadelphia that will involve field trips to Kennett Square, a largely Latino neighborhood. Efforts like these to make the Latin American Studies program more relevant to the experiences of Latinos in the United States have had a meaningful impact on his students.

“In the past I know the program has bounced around between a lot of people, but it really has meant a lot to me, and to the other students I’ve spoken to, that Milton is there as a mentor and someone to help us out,” Castañeda said. “Milton really cares about the program and him being in charge is a huge plus for the program.”

Machuca-Galvez explained that his dedication to the program stems in large part from his personal experiences.

“I see this as a way I can make a contribution,” Machuca-Galvez said. “As a minority, I would like to solve all of the ordeals that I have been through. We have this saying in spanish, ‘Nadie aprende en cabeza ajena’ — nobody learns in someone else’s head — so you have to go through the experience, but if the program can help to ease that experience, if the students can have a clear intellectual understanding of where they are coming from, so they don’t feel lost in any situation where they are a minority, so they have a sense of who they are and a sense of pride and heritage. That’s why the name change is not just cosmetic. It’s more profound.”

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