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Organizing group holds inflation event at local market, some are concerned about its intention

Lair Marin-Marcum talking with shoppers just outside La Michoacana Market in Huber Heights.
Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO
Lair Marin-Marcum talking with shoppers just outside La Michoacana Market in Huber Heights.

A Hispanic organizing group visited the Dayton area Saturday. It gave out gift cards to mostly Latino shoppers outside of a Hispanic market. It also sought to explain how federal policies and inflation hurt the Latino community. Although other local advocacy groups are concerned about the group's intentions.

The LIBRE Initiative, which means free in Spanish, is a national group that bills itself as non-profit and non-partisan. Its message is to educate, engage and empower Latino and Latina voters.

On Saturday, its Ohio chapter, which launched in early September, held an event at La Michoacana Mexican Market in Huber Heights.

Just outside the market, there was food, music and lines of mostly Latino shoppers waiting to receive a $52.93 gift card from LIBRE to shop at La Michoacana. The non-profit had a budget of $10,000 to give out 188 cards.

There were also Spanish-speaking volunteers explaining how policies in Washington were hurting Latinos, and asking people for their contact information to stay in touch for future events.

Right now, LIBRE is running its True Cost of Washington campaign at a time when inflation is the highest it's been in years. Food price rates alone are about 11% higher than last year.

The group believes "misguided policies" in Congress and inflation are hurting Latino communities the most.

“We know that we have the worst salaries. And right now, they are raising the cost of food, gas, and housing. And they're not raising our salaries and it's hurting our pockets even more.” said Lair Marin-Marcum, the Ohio strategic director for LIBRE, who was at the event at La Michoacana.

The $52.93 gift card amount is meant to represent how much inflation is going up every 3.5 days and how much money a family will spend extra this year, according to Marin-Marcum.

The group advocates for policies on immigration, health care and education. But some local groups are concerned LIBRE isn’t transparent about where it stands politically.

Jennie Valdez, who’s on the advocacy board for Latinos Unidos in Dayton, said the group raises some red flags about its transparency.

“This is not about helping the community, there is a political agenda behind it,” Valdez said. “The Latino population is a very convenient group to go after, to exploit. That worries me because they're taking advantage of a situation, a financial situation.”

Valdez said at face value, the organization seems to be advocating for policies that are for Latino communities. Although she adds a deeper look reveals some of the policies it supports are conservative talking points she believes work against the best interests of Latino communities.

IMG_LIBRE2.jpg
Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO

“It’s concerning that they're offering cards with money on them for free and then telling them [shoppers at La Michoacana] inflation is the fault of the current administration and the gas prices are the fault of the current administration.” Valdez said.

LIBRE has affiliations with Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group with funding from the Kochs brothers.

The group also advocates for cutting taxes, defunding Medicare and expanding charter schools.

Marin-Marcum said LIBRE does lean conservative in some of its beliefs, but that the organization doesn’t tell people what or who to vote for.

“It doesn't signify that we're blue or we're red, it just signifies that we're conservative in most cases,” Marin-Marcum said, “There has to be an option, right now, there's only options for the more liberal accounts. We're telling them that they do have options. We're educating them. We are not saying this is a political event.”

Meanwhile, Hispanic voters are on track to become the second biggest voting block in the country. Ohio’s Hispanic/Latino population is 4% or about 500,000 people — although that doesn’t mean all are registered voters.

Alícia Pagán, the Ohio state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said voters, especially Latino voters, need to be critical about groups claiming to advocate for their communities.

“Ask the questions. Why do you want this relationship in our community and what's your long term goal for our community? And how is it that these policies are going to help our community? Why is this policy better than this other policy?” Pagán said.

Pagán cautioned it is incumbent among the Latino community now, more than ever, to question the motives of certain groups or political advocates.

“They have to ask the questions because if you don't, then you're going to continue to get information that says ‘this is good for your community because we say so and this is not because we say so,’ ” Pagán said. “In our community in the past, we have been willing to accept that as a reasonable answer because we think that the politicians are working in our best interest.”

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming