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No Kidding: The Nursery Rhyme Startup Now Worth Millions

Encantos, a children’s education company and a multicultural trove of free resources, interactive books and educational activities inspired by Latino nursery rhymes, was recognized as one of 19 media start-ups that top venture capitalists expect to succeed during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The multi-million-dollar tech company, which received $2 million in expansion seed funding in 2019, develops bilingual and bicultural children’s learning programs that celebrate diversity and reimagine education through a 21st-century lens. It has become particularly advantageous to teachers and parents who wish to continue their children’s education at home.

“We believe that 21st-century kids need to learn 21st-century skills to prepare for a future that is going to be diverse and automated. Their workplace experiences and challenges will be very different. They need to develop the critical learning, literacy and life skills necessary to thrive in the artificial intelligence era. Children need equal access to those important learning experiences and tools,” said Encantos’ chief creative officer and co-founder Susie Jaramillo.

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HUGE congratulations to Susie Jaramillo (@sujaramillo), President and Chief Creative Officer of @encantosbrands, an award-winning kids-focused edtech company. Yesterday, The Portfolia Rising America Fund announced its latest investment in @encantosbrands. ??? Inspired by Latinx nursery rhymes, Susie has created several lines of bilingual, award-winning, children’s books, animated series, and merchandise. She made the first board book prototype for @CanticosWorld by hand while easing her child into daycare. We had the pleasure of having Susie on #LTLPodcast where she tells us what it takes to thrive as a creative in the corporate world, and build the confidence to grow from what you know.?Listen to this episode on #LTLPodcast.✨ #LTLRegram: @canticosworld @sujaramillo

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Encantos’ curriculum introduces young children to early literacy and math concepts and builds social skills through singing and dancing. Its characters and books fill children’s rooms and birthday parties on Instagram, and parents commend the brand’s catchy tunes on sites like Common Sense Media.

Brands include Tiny Travelers, an exploration of geography, language and culture; Skeletitos, a guide for students to overcome fears and anxieties; and Issa’s Edible Adventures, a preschool-based program that teaches children about food, nutrition and culture.

The company also produces the Emmy-nominated and two-time Kidscreen Award-winning bilingual preschool series Canticos, a culmination of videos, books and play-based learning games, also available as an app, which provides a comprehensive learning center for preschool-aged children to learn cultural lessons, as well as Spanish and English skills.

Canticos’ animal characters are authored and illustrated by Jaramillo herself, a Venezuelan-American artist and self-described “lifelong student of culture,” who traveled between Venezuela and Florida during her childhood and now passionately takes on the role of storyteller.

Jaramillo met Encantos co-founder Steven Wolfe Pereira when they were each starting families. They discussed their shared commitment to raising children with a strong foundation in Latino heritage within a society that celebrates diversity and the value of bilingual learning.

When they met, Wolfe Pereira, now Encantos’ chief executive officer, was a global marketing and financial executive in New York; Jaramillo was a co-founder of Latin Vox, one of the nation’s top five multicultural advertising agencies in New York, where she improved communications between the Latino community and corporations.

“The U.S. Latino community is the economic growth driver for American industry,” Jaramillo said. “We are powerful consumers.”

By 2023, the buying power of the U.S. Latino population is expected to top $1.9 trillion, according to a 2019 report by Nielsen.

Driven by a lack of quality multicultural content that authentically represented the nation’s diverse cultures, Jaramillo and Wolfe Pereira aspired to share their own childhood treasures: nursery rhymes like “Los Pollitos,” “Elefantitos” and “Mi Burrito Sabanero.”

Jaramillo sold her award-winning advertising agency, unplugged for two years and embarked on building an enterprise.

“[It was time to] take all of the wonderful nursery rhymes that we loved in childhood and build a brand,” Jaramillo said. Coupled with their spouses, Nuria Santamaria Wolfe, who acts as the chief marketing officer, and Carlos Hoyos, the company’s chief technology officer, the friends founded Encantos in 2015.

“The multicultural kid’s market is a big blue ocean,” wrote Monique Woodard, a recent investor in Encantos and author of the blog Monique.VC.

In 2017, Nickelodeon partnered with Encantos to feature Canticos’ bilingual video series on Nick Jr. and Noggin, Nickelodeon’s preschool-based channels aimed toward children aged two to six.

Jaramillo and Hoyos’ two children, ages 9 and 11, are actively involved as beta testers for the Canticos app. Their daughter also does voice work for Chickie, one of the three Little Chickies (Los Pollitos) in the Canticos video series. Following his father’s footsteps, their son is learning to code.

During the pandemic, the close-knit family is committed to ongoing family conversations and shared experiences.

Jaramillo proudly described a story to Zenger News in which her daughter gifted a copy of Encantos’ bilingual book, Los Pollitos, to a new Honduran student in her class who could not speak English; her gift brought joy to the young girl’s face.

(Edited by Mara Welty and Sally Benford.)

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‘It’s a very long game’: Brown family celebrates 25 years as Napa Valley’s only black-owned vineyard

When Bassett and Marcela Brown went shopping for a summer home in 1980, the two doctors never dreamed the abandoned walnut orchard in Napa Valley would one day become the only black-owned vineyard in the heart of California wine country.

But that’s the story behind Brown Estate Vineyards, a better one than a trained MBA could craft.

Despite the property’s choice location, the winery came about almost as an afterthought for the couple, who had founded a pioneering medical practice in South Central Los Angeles in the late 1960s.

“They didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what they were going to do out here. They just fell in love with the place. It was only after meeting and talking with neighboring grape farmers that they started thinking about planting a vineyard,” said their daughter Deneen Brown, the president of the family’s winemaking business.

The couple fixed up the crumbling Victorian home that came with the property and eventually established a vineyard, seeing it more as a hobby than as a business, she said. It was “a way of life … less about making money or a name for yourself than it was about love for the land, craftsmanship, and a cooperative spirit,” she said.

When Deneen and her siblings Coral and David took over the vineyard in 1995, they didn’t intend to make their own wine.

Siblings David, Deneen and Coral Brown, left to right, started growing grapes on the family’s property in 1995.
(Photo courtesy Brown Estate Winery)

“Mom and Dad did not intend for us to break into the wine business,” she said. “They were continuing to run their medical business in Southern California and expected all of us to get our MDs and join their practice … After we’d been growing and selling grapes for about five years, we understood that our fruit was something special based on how it was being handled by the producers who were buying it. We literally had a, ‘We should bottle it and sell it ourselves!’ moment.”

But when the family did fully set their minds on starting a winery, a disaster almost ruined the business. The warehouse where the wine was stored caught fire in 2000. Nearly all the wine was destroyed shortly after the product had debuted.

“As luck would have it, prior to the fire we’d sent two bottles of our 1998 [Zinfandel] to Robert M. Parker, Jr., widely regarded as the most influential wine critic in the world.,” the family says on the vineyard’s website. Parker’s glowing review created “tremendous enthusiasm” for the wine’s return to restaurants and store shelves and allowed the winery to be revived like “a veritable phoenix from the ashes.”

The three siblings have succeeded well beyond their expectations. Brown Estate Vineyard is a private, family-owned business and they declined to disclose financial figures, but has clearly grown and expanded. They started out making one wine, its flagship Napa Valley Zinfandel. In 2000, they added cabernet sauvignon; in 2002 came chardonnay; Chaos Theory, a red blend, debuted in 2004. Subsequently, they expanded their zinfandel offerings and added a few more varietals.

“We produce a lot more wine now than we did when we started,” Deneen Brown said. They now have about 20 employees.

In Napa Valley, Brown Estate Vineyards is one of a kind: the only black-owned business that grows, produces, and bottles wine on one contiguous property that they own. Brown is not sure why more African Americans are not involved in the winery business but believes cost is a factor. “ ‘I’m going to start a winery,’ is more than a notion,” she said.

According to a University of California study, the cost of establishing a vineyard in Napa Valley, where Brown Estates is located, is more than $37,000 per acre for the first three years. Experts say it will be at least that long before the winery begins to make a profit. So even a small 10-acre vineyard would need an investment of more than $1 million to get started.

The valley itself is small, just 30 miles long and five miles wide. According to Napa Valley Vintners, a trade association, 95% of the valley’s 475 wineries are family owned.

The learning curve is steep, too.

California’s Napa Valley is home to approximately 475 wineries, 95% of which are family owned. (Deb Harkness/Flickr)

“The lessons learned in one vintage do very little to prepare you for the challenges you will face in the next,” said David Brown, whose title is winegrower, in a Q&A on the winery’s website. “As with so many things in life, success comes from being able to accurately predict what is coming next, which is something I am still trying to figure out how to do.”

Deneen Brown admits her family has been lucky. “Our entrance into this space was in many ways accidental and largely on our parents’ shoulders,” she said.

But she said hard work and determination have carried the business through. They have courted customers through wine tastings and special events, and the winery is especially active on social media.

“We are focused on doing our thing with integrity and humility,” she said. “Our learning curve as far as growing and evolving the business has been 25 years and counting. … It’s a very long game.”

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A story about the richest self-made woman in America, Madam C.J. Walker, comes to Netflix

A’Lelia Bundles now knows she was born to tell her great-great-grandmother’s remarkable story. Without her three-decade effort to document her family’s entrepreneurial journey and legacy, pioneering entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker might have ended up a mere footnote in history.

But it took encouragement from African American history icon and “Roots” writer Alex Haley to start Bundles on the journey.

That story—of how Sarah Breedlove, born to formerly enslaved parents only recently emancipated, founded the haircare company that would make her, as Madam C.J. Walker, reportedly the wealthiest self-made woman in the country at the time—serves as the backdrop to the new Netflix limited series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life Of Madam C.J. Walker,” starting March 20.

Bundles’ definitive 2001 biography “On Her Own Ground” set the stage for Octavia Spencer’s new portrayal. An updated version, retitled “Self Made” to reflect the series, is available now as an audiobook and in print March 24.

Historic photo of Madam C.J. Walker and several friends in her automobile. (public domain/WikiMedia Commons)

Bundles’ role in promoting her family’s legacy started in 1955, when the then-3-year-old moved with her family to Indianapolis, where Madam Walker built her hair care empire. Growing up, Bundles was surrounded by that legacy: Her mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, even served as vice president of the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company.

In high school, Bundles wrote a paper on her and her mother’s namesake A’Lelia Walker, Breedlove’s daughter, and at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1975 she accepted her professor’s encouragement to write her master’s paper on her family.

It was her friendship with Haley, however, that truly helped her tell her great-great-grandmother’s story.

“Alex kind of paved the way,” she said Zenger News. But the two met in the early 1980s because Haley wanted to novelize Madam Walker’s legacy.

Though, she said, “the universe connected me to Alex,” she later realized she was was meant to write the story.

Trailblazing author Haley, who ignited the genealogy movement encouraging African Americans to reclaim their African roots and heritage, later became Bundles’ mentor.

“I learned a lot about storytelling from him and a lot on how you speak to audiences and relate to audiences. So, I just feel like that relationship was a gift for me,” she said.

It’s a gift Bundles, who has written five books on Walker, has used well, says Philip J. Merrill, CEO and founder of the Pennsylvania-based African American heritage consulting firm Nanny Jack & Company.

The cover of “Self Made,” the update to the definitive biography of Madam C.J. Walker that is being turned into a Netflix series. (photo courtesy Scribner)

“As a historian and as a material culture specialist, and an author, I’m going to go to the source,” said Merrill, whose book “Old West Baltimore” is forthcoming. When it comes to Madam C.J. Walker, he said, “the source is A’Lelia Bundles.”

Bundles, who spent 30 years as an executive and Emmy-award-winning producer with ABC News and NBC News, spent more than two decades digging in archives, conducting in-person interviews and combing through artifacts before publishing “On Her Own Ground” in 2001.

Walker was born two days before Christmas 1867 on the same Louisiana plantation where her parents had been enslaved until the Civil War’s end. Orphaned at 8 and married at 14, by 20 she was a widow and a single mother to her only child, A’Lelia.

By her untimely death in 1919 at her palatial estate just outside New York City, the 51-year-old had risen to become a wealthy and influential pioneer of the modern hair care industry. Bundles is most proud that her great-great-grandmother used that platform “with the right mindset” to empower thousands of African American women and support civil rights causes like anti-lynching legislation.

The Netflix series comes after 20 years of discussions about screen versions, including mentions of Whoopi Goldberg and Halle Berry as possible stars. Ultimately, basketball superstar LeBron James and his production company SpringHill Entertainment helped bring the multipart series, also starring Blair Underwood and Tiffany Haddish, to life. Still, Bundles hopes viewers will read her updated book to fill in the blanks of the Hollywood version of Walker’s remarkable life.

“Everybody aspires to something more. And this is a woman for whom none of these things should have happened in a logical world and she managed to make it,” Bundles said. “And, so, I think many, many people can see themselves because they can see their aspirations in her and they can dream a little bit because she managed to accomplish so much.”

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Hero Boxer on Weigh-In Day Leaps to Perform CPR on Collapsed Fight Promoter

Weigh-in day is a boxer’s second most demanding public ritual. Fighters slim down for a photographed stare-down, and then only have 24 hours to rehydrate and mentally prepare. Standing nose-to-nose with the undefeated fighter Steven Nelson, the last thing DeAndre Ware expected to do was save someone’s life.

DeAndre Ware poses wearing his “FAITH” trunks. He previously fought under the nickname “The Axe Man.”

Ware splits his time between training and working as a firefighter and paramedic. He shifted gears when Pete Susens hit the floor.

Susens, a fight coordinator for Top Rank Promotions, had collapsed from what looked like a heart attack. He stopped breathing and had no pulse. Two fight doctors leaped into action. So did Ware. He started administering CPR alongside the physicians—chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing—and resuscitated the man.

Top Rank Promotion rewarded Ware with a bonus. He lost his fight the next night, but had already fulfilled his purpose in flying to Las Vegas, before the opening bell sounded.

Ware, now with a record of 13-3-2 with 8 knockouts, finally got his championship belts in 2019, capturing three vacant titles in the super middleweight weight class with a majority decision over a then-undefeated fighter, Ronald Ellis.

Percy Crawford interviewed DeAndre Ware for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Percy Crawford interviewed DeAndre Ware for Zenger News.

Zenger News: The talk of the weekend revolved around your heroic efforts. You’re preparing to weigh in, and then a fight promoter goes down. You spring into action and shift gears. Boom!—You’re an EMT. Tell us what happened.

DeAndre Ware: I had just got done doing my medicals. I was looking for my coaches. I find one of my coaches and I heard some commotion. I was like, “Is somebody fighting or something?” It’s around fight time, people are antsy, hungry and fighters pass one another in the hallways. So that’s what I’m thinking. At first, I wasn’t going to walk in there, but my coach walked in and I went in behind him. And I see Pete [Susens] lying on the ground. I’m like, “Ah man, Pete must have passed out.”

I don’t know what happened, but he looked pale. The doctor was checking him out. It happened pretty fast, but I was kind of torn because I knew I was fighting, I see two doctors there, but it was like, “Do they need my help?” I didn’t know what to do because there was two doctors there. I let them know that I was a firefighter/EMT and I asked if they needed my help and needed me to do [chest] compressions. … They asked for my help, so I started doing compressions.

They said Pete didn’t have a pulse and he wasn’t breathing. That’s what made me want to do the compressions. Once they gave me the okay to do it, I started doing compressions. After doing compressions for a little while, Pete started to have agonal respirations [gasping]. He was barely breathing, but he was having little respirations. We called to get a defibrillator. I asked them for oxygen, but they didn’t have any oxygen at the time. They finally came with the defibrillator and we gave him a shock, which brought his pulse back, but he wasn’t getting any oxygen to the brain. So, he started to decline again. He lost his pulse again, so I started back on CPR.

A few minutes later the Vegas fire department ended up coming. They hooked him up to their machine and gave him oxygen. He started to come through. He was alert and answered some questions they were asking him. They got him and took him to the hospital.

Zenger: How long have you been a firefighter?

Ware: I’m basic EMT trained to things like CPR, checking for pulses and giving oxygen. Stuff like that. I’ve been on the fire department for seven years.

DeAndre Ware’s boxing championship belts are pictured on March 19, 2019 along with a proclamation from the city council of Toledo (Ohio) honoring him (Toledo Fire & Rescue Department/Facebook)

Zenger: Did you personally know Pete?

Ware: I met Pete for the first time the day prior. I knew who he was. My coach talked very highly of him. That was my second time seeing him, but I had met him that Thursday.

Zenger: That’s a chance meeting. You meet a guy on Thursday and save his life on Friday. Top Rank appreciated your efforts. They announced they were giving you a bonus, but this was reactionary for you. I know you didn’t do it for any recognition, but it has to feel good to be able to keep someone alive.

Ware: Yeah! It made it that much better even though I didn’t get the win. I was there to fight. I was there to get the victory and get the win, but after I saved Pete’s life—that’s all I needed, honestly. I’m not going to say I didn’t care about the fight anymore because I did. I wanted to win and get that title to get myself further ahead in my career. But just saving that life did so much more for me. Even coming home—I mean, yeah, I was talking to my coach yesterday and it’s like, it’s almost like someone just died because I just lost. It hurts, but my spirits are up. I knew I was there for a greater purpose. I saved a life. I was able to talk to Pete yesterday, and I got to hear his voice and that made me feel real good. Being able to do that on your own and knowing you were able to save someone’s life, we do it on the fire department, but I didn’t have no equipment. I didn’t have anything. I just went to my instincts and got the job done and helped save a life. That means so much more to me than winning a fight.

Zenger: There is nothing you could have done during that fight Saturday that would have topped what you’d done backstage Friday.

Ware: Right! No doubt about it.

Boxer DeAndre Ware posed with Toledo, Ohio Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz on March 19, 2019 (Toledo Fire & Rescue Department/Facebook)

Zenger: As a firefighter, you understand that there is a bigger purpose for you than boxing, but to have it confirmed in that manner? I think it’s a lesson that everyone can learn from. … You saved what was essentially a stranger’s life.

Ware: I just hope that maybe I can be some type of inspiration. Just bring people and this country together more. I mean, I don’t know Pete. I could have said, “Forget it. I’m here for a fight.” I could have not wanted to risk doing anything because when I was doing compressions, they didn’t really want me doing them because I was dehydrated because I was about to weigh-in.

They didn’t want to take me away from my fight, but I was thinking to myself, “I don’t care.” I never had that thought process like, “I don’t know him, he’s a white guy,” or anything like that. But that’s not me. That’s not how I feel. Even with all the things going on, all the talk of Black Lives Matter, no. I can’t let this man die. This is a time for everybody to get together and come together as a country.

Zenger: You had a fight to focus on. You had a built-in excuse to say, “That’s not why I’m here,” and you chose to do what’s right. If only more people just did what was right!

Ware: I took that oath to be there, whether I’m on shift or on duty or not. I took that oath and I carry that sense of pride with me through everything that I do. And it’s not just the job, it’s just me as a person. That’s just how I am. I’m there. I like to help people. That’s part of the reason I’m on the fire department. The motto at my high school was, “Being a Man for Others.” I’ve been applying that. I had it before I went to St. John’s, but that made it stick with me.

(Edited by David Martosko and André Johnson.)

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India Goes Wild for Kamala’s Family Roots

Residents in Sen. Kamala Harris’ ancestral village haven’t seen her in years, but they are praying for her victory by sacrificing coconuts in Hindu temples. Others are pasting up posters or cheering the vice-presidential hopeful on social media.

In Tamil Naidu, she would win overwhelmingly among her landsmen.

Residents see her as America’s first Indian-American nominated for national office, not so much as the first African-American or the latest woman to be nominated for the vice presidency.

“In India, people who put up posters for Harris are breaking coconuts in temples,” said Harris’s uncle, Balachandran Gopalan. A New Delhi-based academic, Gopalan explained that breaking coconuts is a form of ritualistic worship for Hindus, especially those from south India. “I have also done the same,” he added. When his niece was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in 2017 by Joe Biden, he attended the ceremony.

Colorful posters wishing Harris victory are on display throughout her grandfather’s ancestral village, Painganadu Thusalendrapuram, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The poster went viral after Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, posted it on Twitter. “This is from Tamil Nadu, where our Indian family is from,” she wrote. “It says: ‘PV Gopalan’s granddaughter is victorious.’”

Today Harris has few living relatives in her home state besides an aunt, Dr. Sarala Gopalan, who lives in Chennai, the state’s capital. Still, the candidate’s campaign is eager for Harris to be seen as Indian American. In her Democratic National Convention speech, she spoke about her chithis (“aunts” in Tamil). While Americans had to google what it meant, the Tamil-speaking world was elated to hear a word in their mother tongue from the vice presidential nominee.

The villagers Zenger interviewed in Painganadu Thusalendrapuram—including those who were hanging posters—knew of the candidate more from the American news than from any living connection. But for the 2020 elections, the Democratic Party is going all-out to win the Indian vote and is using Kamala Harris’s roots as its calling card.

The Asian Indian population in the U.S. increased from 396,000 in 1980 to over 2.7 million in 2010, according to the website Statista. The group is one of the fastest-growing ethnicities in America, and with high levels of education and financial status, Asian Indians are gaining political clout. In matters of American foreign policy, India has become an important player, both as a venue for American business interests and as a strategic counterweight to China’s strength. As a result, there have been clear attempts to woo Indians’ support from Democrats and Republicans.

During the 2016 general elections, the Hindu American Foundation and the Republican Hindu Coalition threw their weight behind the Trump campaign. In return, Trump repeatedly promised Indians in general and Hindus in particular his support should he become president.

Mimicking Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan “Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar” (“This time a Modi government”), a 2016 video of Donald Trump proclaiming Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar went viral with Indians in the U.S. and in India.

Harris—the first Indian-American and African-American woman to run for vice president—has often spoken of how her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, had a strong influence on her.

“Shyamala was an exceptional woman,” said Balachandran Gopalan. “She was a hard taskmaster and pushed her children to give their best. No wonder Kamala keeps talking about the influence her mother had on her life.”

Harris opened her vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech by remembering her mother and regretting that she was not there to see her success. “My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning,” she said.

Her mother studied for a master’s in nutrition and endocrinology at University of California—Berkeley starting in 1958. She completed her Ph.D. before venturing into breast cancer research.

“She went to study science in the U.S. at a time when very few American women were studying science, forget unmarried Indian women,” said Gopalan. “My father had no objection to her going for higher studies as long as she could get a scholarship and fund her studies.”

Shyamala Gopalan Harris joined the civil rights movement in Berkeley in the 1960s and met Donald J. Harris, a Jamaican graduate student, at a protest. They married in 1963. After their divorce in the 1970s, Kamala Harris would visit Chennai frequently with her mother and sister.

In a YouTube video with Mindy Kaling late last year, Harris revealed that her grandfather was “mischievous,” making her French toast when his strictly vegetarian wife was out of town. “People have these stereotypes,” said Harris. “My grandfather was very progressive.”

In her bestseller “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” the Democratic candidate wrote at length about her family in India and how she was close to them: “They lived many thousands of miles away, and we rarely saw one another. Still, through many long-distance calls, our periodic trips to India, and letters and cards written back and forth, our sense of family—of closeness and comfort and trust—was able to penetrate the distance.”

“Kamala would visit India with her mother very often, almost every year when both my parents were alive,” said Gopalan.

Harris’s grandfather died in 1998; his wife Rajam in 2009. But Gopalan has kept in touch with his niece and has closely followed her political career. Her vice-presidential nomination was no surprise to him. “I have been following the news analyses in the U.S. media and election polls and trends,” he said. “She has a good chance unless Trump comes up with a U.S.-made vaccine for Covid-19 before September or something equally dramatic.”

For Gopalan—like the residents of his ancestral village—his niece has already won.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Anne Denbok.)

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