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Hispanic–Latino naming dispute

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Hispanic–Latino naming dispute

The Hispanic/Latino naming dispute refers to the ongoing disagreements over the use of the ethnonyms Hispanic and Latino to refer collectively to the inhabitants of the United States who are of Latin American or Spanish origin, i.e. Hispanic or Latino Americans is a vast group. The usage of both terms has changed and adapted itself to a wide range of geographical and historical influences. The term that was used first was Hispanic. Some Hispanics in the western United States preferred the term Latino therefore the term was changed to Hispanic or Latino.

While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, "Hispanic" is a narrower term which only refers to persons of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry, while "Latino" is more frequently used to refer more generally to anyone of Latin American origin or ancestry, including Brazilians.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Hispanic thus includes persons from Spain and Spanish-speaking Latin Americans but excludes Brazilians while Latino excludes persons from Spain but includes Spanish-speaking Latin Americans and Brazilians. Because Brazil's population of 191,000,000[11] is several times larger than Spain's population of 47,000,000[12] and also because there are more Brazilian-born Americans (325,547 as of 2012[13]) than Spanish-born Americans (88,665 as of 2012)[14] in the United States, Latino is a broader term encompassing more people. The choice between the terms Latino or Hispanic among those of Spanish-speaking origin is associated with location: persons of Spanish-speaking origins residing in the eastern United States tend to prefer the term Hispanic, whereas those in the west tend to prefer Latino.[15]

Latino as a category used in the United States may be understood as a shorthand for the Spanish word latinomericano or the Portuguese phrase latino americano and thus excluding speakers of Romance Languages from Europe.[16][17] Both Hispanic and Latino are generally used to denote people living in the United States,[18][19] so that "[o]utside the United States, we don't speak of Latinos; we speak of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and so forth."[20][21][22]


The term Hispanic was adopted by the United States government in the early 1970s during the administration of Richard Nixon[23] after the Hispanic members of an interdepartmental Ad Hoc Committee to develop racial and ethnic definitions recommended that a universal term encompassing all Hispanic subgroups—including Central and South Americans—be adopted.[24] As the 1970 census did not include a question on Hispanic origin on all census forms—instead relying on a sample of the population via an extended form ("Is this person's origin or descent: Mexican; Puerto Rican; Cuban; Central or South American; Other Spanish; or None of these")[25]—the members of the Ad Hoc Committee wanted a common designation to better track the social and economic progress of the group vis-à-vis the general population.[24] The designation has since been used in local and federal employment, mass media, academia, and business market research. It has been used in the U.S. Census since 1980.[26] Because of the popularity of "Latino" in the western portion of the United States, the government adopted this term as well in 1997, and used it in the 2000 census.[15][27]

Previously, Hispanic and Latino Americans were categorized as "Spanish-Americans", "Spanish speaking Americans", and "Spanish surnamed Americans". However:

  • Although a large majority of Hispanic and Latino Americans have Spanish ancestry, most are not of direct, "from-Spain-to-the-U.S."[28][29] Spanish descent; many are not primarily of Spanish or descent; and some are not of Spanish descent at all. People whose ancestors or who themselves arrived in the United States directly from Spain or are a tiny minority of the Hispanic or Latino population (see figures in this article), and there are Hispanic/Latino Americans who are of other European ancestries in addition to Spanish (e.g. Portuguese, Italian, German, and Middle Eastern, such as the Lebanese).[30]
  • Most Hispanic and Latino Americans can speak Spanish, not all; and most Spanish speaking and speaking Americans are Hispanic or Latino, not all. E.g., Hispanic/Latino Americans often do not speak Spanish or by the third generation, and some Americans who are Spanish speaking or may not identify themselves with Spanish speaking Americans as an ethnic group.
  • Not all Hispanic and Latino Americans have Spanish surnames, and most Spanish-surnamed Americans are Hispanic or Latino, not all. For example, non-Spanish surnamed Bill Richardson (former governor, Congressman, etc.), former National Football League (NFL) star Jim Plunkett, and Salma Hayek (actress) have Hispanic or Latino origin. Filipino Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans of Chamorro (Guamanians and Northern Mariana Islanders), Palauan, Micronesian (FSM), and Marshallese origin often have Spanish surnames, but have their own, non-Hispanic/Latino ethnic identities and origin. Likewise, while many Louisiana Creole people have Spanish surnames, they identify with the mostly French—though partially Spanish—culture of their region.

Usage of Hispanic

The term Hispanic has been the source of several debates in the US. It was first used officially by the US government in the 1970 Census to refer to "a person of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race."[15] On the terminology for Hispanics. The OMB did not accept the recommendation to retain the single term "Hispanic." Instead, the OMB has decided that the term should be "Hispanic or Latino." Because regional usage of the terms differs. Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion of the United States. Since the 2000 Census the identifier has changed from "Hispanic" to "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino".[31]

Other federal and local government agencies and non-profit organizations include Brazilians and Portuguese in their definition of Hispanic. The US Department of Transportation defines Hispanic as, "persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or others [of] Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race."[32] This definition has been adopted by the Small Business Administration as well as by many federal, state, and municipal agencies for the purposes of awarding government contracts to minority owned businesses.

The Congressional Hispanic Conference include representatives of Spanish and Portuguese descent. The Hispanic Society of America is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which proclaims itself the champion of Hispanic success in higher education, has member institutions in the US, Puerto Rico, Latin America, Spain, and Portugal.

In a recent study, most Spanish-speakers of Spanish or Latin American descent do not prefer the term "Hispanic" or "Latino" when it comes to describing their identity. Instead, they prefer to be identified by their country of origin. However, over twice as many Spanish-speakers of Spanish or Latin-American descent prefer the term Hispanic over the term Latino.[33]

Origin of the term Latino

The adoption of the term Latino by the mass media use of the word "Latino", pointing out that such ethnonyms are optional and should be used only to describe people involved in the practices, ideologies and identity politics of their supporters.[35][36][37][38] They argue that if Hispanic is an imposed official term, so is Latino,[39] since it was the French who coined the expression Latin America (Amérique latine) to refer to the Spanish, French, and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere, during their support of the Second Mexican Empire.[40]

Distinctions Between the Terms Latino and Hispanic

Some authorities of American English maintain a distinction between the terms Hispanic and Latino:

"Though often used interchangeably in American English, Hispanic and Latino are not identical terms, and in certain contexts the choice between them can be significant. Hispanic, from the Latin word for "Spain," ... potentially encompass[es] all Spanish-speaking peoples in both hemispheres and emphasiz[es] the common denominator of language among communities that sometimes have little else in common. Latino—which in Spanish means "Latin" but which as an English word is probably a shortening of the Spanish word latinoamericano—refers ... to persons or communities of Latin American origin. Of the two, only Hispanic can be used in referring to Spain and its history and culture; a native of Spain residing in the United States is a Hispanic, not a Latino, and one cannot substitute Latino in the phrase the Hispanic influence on native Mexican cultures without garbling the meaning. In practice, however, this distinction is of little significance when referring to residents of the United States, most of whom are of Latin American origin and can theoretically be called by either word."[16]

The AP Stylebook also distinguishes between the terms Hispanic and Latino. The Stylebook limits the term Hispanic to persons "from - or whose ancestors were from - a Spanish-speaking land or culture. Latino and Latina are sometimes preferred"[8][9] It provides a more expansive definition, however, of the term Latino. The Stylebook definition of Latino includes not only persons of Spanish-speaking land or ancestry, but also more generally includes persons "from - or whose ancestors were from - ... Latin America."[10] The Stylebook specifically lists Brazilian as an example of a group which can be considered Latino.[10]

Hispanic/Latino ethnic groups

The U.S. government has defined Hispanic or Latino persons as being "persons who trace their origin [to] ...Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures".[15] The Census Bureau's 2010 census does provide a definition of the terms Latino or Hispanic and is as follows: “Hispanic or Latino” refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. It allows respondents to self-define whether they were Latino or Hispanic and then identify their specific country or place of origin.[41] On its website, the Census Bureau defines "Hispanic" or "Latino" persons as being "persons who trace their origin [to]... Spanish speaking Central and South America countries, and other Spanish cultures".[15][27][42]

These definitions thus arguably does not include Brazilian Americans,[15][27][43] especially since the Census Bureau classifies Brazilian Americans as a separate ancestry group from Hispanic or Latino.[44] The 28 Hispanic or Latino American groups in the Census Bureau's reports are the following:[27][45][46] Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican; Central American: Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Salvadoran, Other Central American; South American: Argentinian, Bolivian, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Uruguayan, Venezuelan, Other South American; Other Hispanic or Latino: Spaniard, Spanish, Spanish American, All other Hispanic.

Criticism from the media

In the US, the terms Latino and Hispanic are officially voluntary, self-designated classifications.[47][48][49][50][51] Yet the mass media has helped propagate them irrespective of this fact. The rapid widespread use of Latino in the US has been possible due to the policies of certain newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and other California-based media during the 1990s. The use of the term as a label has been the target of journalists like Raoul Lowery who has attacked it, denouncing it as a misleading and simplistic way of tagging a group as diverse as Latin Americans:

"For years I have campaigned against the Los Angeles Times-imposed word, "Latino", in describing the country's fastest growing ethnic "Group," those with Spanish-surnames, those who speak Spanish, et al. The LA Times set its feet in concrete and the use of the word "Latino" and nothing has cracked the concrete since. Worst of all, other newspapers have followed the Times '​ lead and news coverage, accuracy and the community have suffered."[52]

Lowery argues that, according to the statistics of the Census Bureau, most middle-class people with Latin-American background living in the United States reject the term.[53] He traces the polarization of the word to the Los Angeles Times columnist Frank del Olmo who regarded the term Hispanic as "ugly and imprecise".[52] He writes:

"The third reason Del Olmo objected to the word "Hispanic" and championed the word "Latino" was that "Chicano" had been roundly rejected by all Mexican Americans but the most radical, blue collar, less educated, under-class people of Mexican-origin. Del Olmo pushed "Latino" as a substitute for the rejected "Chicano." Unfortunately, he was in a position to push this substitution into the language of the "Newspaper of Record" in the West. Other papers and broadcast stations took up the word because it was the "style" of the LA Times. Frank Del Olmo single-handedly branded millions of people.[54]

Latino, Hispanic or national identity

The Latino/Hispanic naming dispute is a phenomenon that has its roots mainly in California and other neighboring states.[54] Before the adoption of the ethnonym "Hispanic or Latino" by the United States Government the term Hispanic was commonly used for statistics ends. However, many people didn't feel satisfied with the term and started campaigns promoting the use of Latino as a new ethnonym. The Office of Management and Budget has stated that the new term should be, indeed, "Hispanic or Latino" because the usage of the terms differs—"Hispanics is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion".[55]

In spite of this, the debates regarding the proper name of the perceived homogeneous population of US citizens with Latin American or Spanish background still abound and are even more acute. In order to find out to what extent people agree or disagree with either term many polls have been conducted.[56][57] According to a poll of December 2000 by Hispanic Trends, 65 percent of the registered voters preferred the word Hispanic while 30 percent chose to identify themselves as Latino. Daniel David Arreola, in his book Hispanic spaces, Latino places: community and cultural diversity in contemporary America, points out that many Latin Americans feel more comfortable identifying themselves with their country of origin:

What most of us know and what the results from the 1992 Latino National Political survey demonstrate is a preference for place of origin or national identity in what we call ourselves. Face-to-face interviews of 2,817 people were conducted in 1989 and 1990. Some 57 percent to 86 percent of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans—whether born in Mexico or born in the United States, whether born in the island or in the mainland—preferred to call themselves Mexican or Puerto Rican rather than panethnic names like Hispanic or Latino.[58]

A Pew Hispanic Center survey[59] conducted 9 November – 7 December 2011 and published 4 April 2012 reported:

Nearly four decades after the United States government mandated the use of the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" to categorize Americans who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries, a new nationwide survey of Hispanic adults finds that these terms still haven't been fully embraced by Hispanics themselves. A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family's country of origin; just 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label.

Academic opinion and the social sciences

One of the major arguments of people who object to either term is not only the perceived stereotypical overtones they carry, but the unjust and unfair labeling of people who don't even belong to the practices and ideologies of such identities.[60] This is true of many indigenous peoples such as the wixarikas and the lacandones who still practise their own religious rituals without syncretism with Catholic elements. Journalist Juan Villegas writes:

"The word 'Latino' may be loaded with negative connotations when used by non-Latinos in American culture because of its association with the sign 'Latin' which may imply a stereotyped character partially imposed by Hollywood. Latino is a sign that needs to be contextualized. It may bring some groups together, but it also may contribute to depoliticize a movement and to stereotype a diversity of social groups and cultures.[61]

Others such as Catherine Alexandra Carter or Rodolfo Acuña address the issue from a more global and political perspective, stressing the importance of terms like Latino or Hispanic for the marketing industry and for statistical ends:

"The terms 'Hispanic' and 'Latino', although first created for the purpose of lumping together a diverse group of people and making them more economically marketable, have grown into something far more significant. Over time the legitimacy and accuracy of these terms have come to influence not only the functioning of the marketing industry, but the organization and structure of many other aspects of life".[62]
"When and why the Latino identity came about is a more involved story. Essentially, politicians, the media, and marketers find it convenient to deal with the different U.S. Spanish-speaking people under one umbrella. However, many people with Spanish surnames contest the term "Latino". They claim it is misleading because no Latino or Hispanic nationality exists since no Latino state exists, so generalizing the term "Latino" slights the various national identities included under the umbrella.[63]

See also


  1. ^ Thurman, Christie. The Effects of Multicultural Dance on Self-Determination of Adults with Intellectual Disabilities (MA). Retrieved 2012-12-09. Latino: People with roots in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americas. This broader term, mostly used in the United States, is sometimes used as a replacement for Hispanic 
  2. ^ "Title unknown".   (Defining "Hispanic" as meaning those with Spanish-speaking roots in the Americas and "Latino" as meaning those with both Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking roots in Latin America.)
  3. ^ Oquendo, Angel R. (1995). "Re-Imagining the Latino/a Race". Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 12: 93, 96–97. 'Latino' . . . 'is more inclusive and descriptive'" than Hispanic. "'Latino' is short for 'latinoamericano,' which of course means Latin American in Spanish. Like its English counterpart, the term 'latinoamericano' strictly refers to the people who come from the territory in the Americas colonized by Latin nations, such as Portugal, Spain, and France, whose languages are derived from Latin. People from Brazil, Mexico, and even Haiti are thus all 'latinoamericanos. Continuing this line of reasoning Canada is also Latino' Individuals who are decendants of the former British or Dutch colonies are excluded. ... Finally, 'hispanoamericanos' are persons from the former colonies of Spain in the 'New World.' The expression 'Hispanic' probably derives from 'hispanoamericanos.' 
  4. ^ Ramirez, Deborah A. (1993). "Excluded Voices: The Disenfranchisement of Ethnic Groups from Jury Service".  
  5. ^ "Title unknown". 
  6. ^ Anderson, Kevin (18 October 2008). "The complexity of race in New Mexico".  
  7. ^ Vitale, Michele (10 May 2007). Evaluating Access Barriers to Primary Health Care Services for Hispanic Residents in Toombs County, Georgia (pdf) (MS).  
  8. ^ a b "AP Stylebook Twitter". Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  9. ^ a b "Herald Style Guide". Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  10. ^ a b c "Newsroom 101: Recent Changes to AP Style". Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  11. ^ "Brazil Population Reaches 190.8 million". Government of Brazil. 29 April 2011. Retrieved 2012-12-09. 
  12. ^ "Population".  
  13. ^ "United States - Selected Population Profile in the United States". 2012  
  14. ^ US Census Bureau 2012 American Community Survey B03001 1-Year Estimates SELECTED POPULATION PROFILE IN THE UNITED STATES retrieved September 24, 2013
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. Federal Register Notice".  
  16. ^ a b "Hispanic".  
  17. ^ "Latino".  
  18. ^ "The concept of "Latino" is an American concept" (ms powerpoint). Retrieved 2012-12-09. 
  19. ^ Thomas, Jeffrey (8 December 2006). "New Survey Paints Vivid Portrait of U.S. Latinos". USINFO. Retrieved 2012-12-09. Being Latino is an American identity 
  20. ^ Suarez-Orozco, Marcelo; Páez, Mariela, eds. (2008). Latinos: Remaking America. University of California Press. p. 4.  
  21. ^ Grande, Michael (7 May 2005). "Latino & Hispanic? It's Time to Rethink these Terms!". Retrieved 2012-12-09. 
  22. ^ "Title unknown".  
  23. ^ "A Cultural Identity". 1997-06-18. Retrieved 2006-12-27. 
  24. ^ a b Huffington Post: "Latino Or Hispanic? How The Federal Government Decided" By Grace Flores-Hughes September 19, 2013
  25. ^ U.S. Census website: US Census History - 1970 (Population): retrieved September 25, 2013
  26. ^ Gibson, Campbell; Jung, Kay (September 2002). "Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States". Working Paper Series No. 56. Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  27. ^ a b c d Grieco, Elizabeth M.; Rachel C. Cassidy. "Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000" ( 
  28. ^ Nicolás Kanellos; Thomas Weaver; Claudio Esteva Fabregat (1994). Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Anthropology. Arte Publico Press. p. 92.  
  29. ^ Jamie Martinez Wood (2007). Latino Writers and Journalists. Infobase Publishing. p. 7.  
  30. ^ Rochin, Refugio I.; Lionel Fernandez. "U.S. Latino Patriots: From the American Revolution to Afghanistan, An Overview" (  Latino denotes "the inclusion of the non-Spanish cultures of Latin America that have contributed immensely to the development and structure of present-day Latino cultural groups. These groups may include people of Latin American descent whose cultural heritage may be African, Asian, American Indian or indigenous, Middle Eastern and/or European."
  31. ^ Crese, Aruthur R.; Schmidley, Audrey Dianne; Ramirez, Roberto R. (9 July 2008). "Identification of Hispanic Ethnicity in Census 2000: Analysis of Data Quality for the Question on Hispanic Origin, Population Division Working Paper No. 75".  
  32. ^ "What is a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)?". US Department of Transportation Office of Civil Rights. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ Fisher, Celia B.; Lerner, Richard M. (2004). Encyclopedia of Applied Developmental Science 2. SAGE. p. 634.  
  35. ^ Gimenez, Martha E. (1998). "Latinos/Hispanics...What Next! Some Reflections on the Politics of Identity in the US". Cultural Logic 1 (2).  
  36. ^ de la Isla, José (2003). "The Rise of Hispanic Political Power" (pdf). Archer Books. Retrieved 2012-12-09. 
  37. ^ Grunig, Larissa A.; Hon, Linda Childers; Toth, Elizabeth Lance (2004). Women in Public Relations: How Gender Influences Practice. Routledge. p. 166. 'Latino' refers only to immigrants from Latin America (itself an offensive term to some indigenous people of that area) 
  38. ^ Rodriguez, Gregory (12 November 2012). "Look beyond the 'Latino' label".  
  39. ^ "Latino | Define Latino at". Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  40. ^ Guadalupe, Hector Velez (18 November 1992). "Latino? Hispanic? Quechua? No, American Take Your Pick".  
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ In contrast, some dictionary definitions may include Brazilian Americans or Brazilian people, or both in general.
  44. ^ "Select Population Groups". 2009 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Selected Population Profile. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  45. ^ "American FactFinder Help; Spanish/Hispanic/Latino". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  46. ^ "B03001. Hispanic or Latino Origin by Specific Origin". 2009 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  47. ^ "Title unknown". For the U.S. government and others, Hispanic or Latino identity is voluntary, as in the United States Census, and in some market research 
  48. ^ Gorin, Sherri Sheinfeld; Heck, Julia E. (May 2005). "Cancer screening among Latino subgroups in the United States". Preventive Medicine 40 (5): 515–526.   (subscription required)
  49. ^ "Census 2000: The Changing Face of Providence". The Providence Plan. 2001. Retrieved 2012-12-09. Spanish/Hispanic/Latino is a self-designated classification 
  50. ^ "Title unknown". 'Latino' is a self-chosen word which has come to refer to American- born peoples of Spanish/Portuguese and/or American-Indian descent 
  51. ^ Byrne, Jason; Wolch, Jennifer (13 March 2009). "Nature, race, and parks: past research and future directions for geographic research".   (subscription required)
  52. ^ a b Contreras 2002, p. 7.
  53. ^ Contreras 2002, p. 3.
  54. ^ a b Contreras 2002.
  55. ^ "Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. Federal Register Notice".   (Boldface in the original.)
  56. ^ Homberger, Eric (November 2009). "Review: Other Immigrants: The Global Origins of the American People – A poll in 2000 revealed that 'Latinos' and 'Latinas' use neither term to describe themselves". Reviews in History. Retrieved 2012-12-09. 
  57. ^ Retta, Edward; Brink, Cynthia (2007). "Latino or Hispanic Panic: Which Term Should We Use?" (pdf). Retrieved 2012-12-09. In Texas, a Pew Hispanic Center poll found that 45% of Latinos prefer the term Hispanic and 8% prefer Latino. Note this leaves 47% of Latinos in Texas who prefer neither term 
  58. ^ Arreola 2004.
  59. ^ Taylor, Paul; Lopez, Mark Hugo; Martínez, Jessica Hamar; Velasco, Gabriel. "When Labels dont fit Hispanics and Their Views of Identity". Pew Hispanic Center. Retrieved 2012-12-09. 
  60. ^ McDonogh, Gary; Gregg, Robert; Wong, Cindy H., eds. (2001). Encyclopedia of contemporary American culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 416.  
  61. ^ Taylor, Diana; Morales, Juan Villegas (1994). Negotiating performance: gender, sexuality, and theatricality in Latin/o America.  
  62. ^ Carter, Catherine Alexandra. Changing Views of Identity in the Face of Globalization Among Hispanic Communities in Diaspora (pdf) (Thesis).  
  63. ^ Acuña, Rodolfo (2003). U.S. Latino Issues. Greenwood Publishing Group.  

External links

  • Los Angeles Times – Look beyond the 'Latino' label
  • The Term 'Latino' Describes No One
  • Latino or Hispanic Panic: Which Term Should We Use?
  • Yale University – Understanding Ethnic Labels and Puerto Rican Identity
  • Latino Times has 20-1 ratio of the use of "Latino" over "Hispanic" from news articles worldwide.
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