Last week, Latinos across the country dumped Goya products in protest of its CEO, Robert Unanue, for praising President Donald Trump on a visit to the White House. Within days, Trump devotees counteracted with a “buy-cott.” Time will tell who has the most power to impact change or keep Goya operating within a “business as usual” modality.
“Goya Foods has been a staple of so many Latino households for generations. Now their CEO, Bob Unanue, is praising a president who villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain. Americans should think twice before buying their products.”
The message tweeted by Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio and former Democratic 2020 presidential candidate, was a war cry. Castro became one of thousands who called for a boycott of Goya food company after Unanue gushed over Trump twice at a White House event. Goya is the largest, Hispanic-owned company in the US with consumers who are primarily Latino.
Unanue was one of several Hispanic leaders invited to the White House for President Trump’s announcement of the House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative in the rose garden. An order committing to helping members of the Hispanic community obtain success through education and work development, Unanue said, “We are all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder.”
In his speech, Unanue compared Trump to his grandfather, an immigrant from Spain who founded Goya foods. However, prior to Unanue complimenting Trump, transcripts recorded the third generation Goya CEO saying inside the White House, “I’m so blessed to be here in the most prosperous country in the world, the greatest country in the world. And we’re so blessed to have you as our leader, as we continue to build this country and make it — continue to make it the most prosperous nation in the world.”
In response, Latino households voiced disappointment and ire. One of them was former congressperson, Luis Gutiérrez. “I say to the owners of Goya, you came as conquistadores,” said Gutiérrez as he sat in front of a cabinet full of Goya products swearing to no longer buy any.
“You wiped out our indigenous population in Puerto Rico. You exploited the Puerto Ricans for centuries under your colonialism. And now you wish to bring about more of Donald Trump who hates us, despised us and treated the Puerto Rican people with such cruelty.”
The boycott is led with the hashtag #goyaway.
The flood of criticism was swift towards a company launched in New York, but now headquartered in New Jersey. With a marketing promise as “the premier source for authentic Latin cuisine,” they use culinary foodways and recipes mostly from Caribbean Latin America. In reply, Latinos across the country began offering recipes from their family members as alternatives.
Jeremie Serrano, a Puerttoriqueño, or Puerto Rican who chooses to identify as a boricua, provided recipes for two popular seasonings Goya sells: adobo and sazón. “It’s time we make our own damn seasonings at home without the added racism & bigotry!” Wrote Serrano on his Instagram page posting recipes.
Even chefs of non-Latino heritage expressed outrage. “So what we don’t talk about often is how many Black people buy Goya products,” says Chef Cassandra Loftlin who lives between Georgia and Boston as a contributor to America’s Test Kitchen. She adds:
“I know I’m asking a lot…but maybe NOW people will actually take a minute to learn about the people and culture behind America’s most popular cuisines that we love. This is a chance for a real conversation between cultures. In the industry, Black and Brown people often work side by side, but we are so busy fighting the system we rarely have a chance to actually share culture.”
Another response to Goya was the opportunity for smaller, Latino-owned companies to market their products.
Free speech versus free market
Since the backlash, Unanue has doubled down in his support for Trump. “I’m not apologizing,” countered Unanue during an interview on Fox. In his talk, he pointed out that he has worked to forward a Hispanic agenda with both the Trump and Obama Administrations. Unanue also said that the boycott was a “suppression of free speech.”
Sticking to his anti-Trump position, Mayor Castro posted on social media that Unanue “is free to support a bigoted president who said an American judge can’t do his job because he’s ‘Mexican’, who treats Puerto Rico like trash, and who tries to deport Dreamers.”
Days following, Trump posted an “I heart Goya” photo on Instagram. Another post situates him in the Oval Office with the company’s products on Instagram. As well, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who also serves as a senior advisor to her father, showed similar support. In a Twitter post holding a can of Goya black beans with wording using the company’s official marketing slogan, “If it’s Goya, it has to be good. Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
Soon after, watch dogs asserted that the Trumps violated ethics. According to the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, members of the Executive Branch “should not use public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”
Falling in line with Trump, his supporters initiated campaigns to bolster Goya purchases. One highly successful fundraiser is by Casey Harper who launched a GoFundme campaign “to raise money to buy foods produced by Goya and donate the items to food pantries around the D.C. area.” Already, Goya announced that it was donating 2 million pounds of food to the US, including Puerto Rico during the expansion of food insecurity. However, the core of the initiative is to “support Trump and feed the hungry.” With almost $280,000 raised, the new slew of Goya supports seem to be more pro-Trump than purveyors of Latin cuisines.
Since his presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s main platform has focused on Latinos. Mainly, as cannon fodder for politics and policy regarding immigration and citizenship.
In the past, Trump has called several Latin American nations, “shithole countries.” Plus his immigration policies resulted in family separations of undocumented immigrants and deplorable detention centers that has lost thousands of children, even reports of child sexual abuse.
For Puerto Rico, there is a record of suffering under the Trump Administration. A territory of the union, Puerto Rican officials reported to have not received any stimulus aid to help deal with the shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Years before, Trump withheld aid from the island during the 2017 relief efforts following the massive category 5 hurricanes. Supplies, food and water were left rotting in containers after a public spat with San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto.
But as 2020 presidential elections near, the tone and tune of Trump changes. Before the House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, Trump invited Mexico’s president to the White House to discuss the future of border-sharing countries. At a dinner, Trump, who has called Mexicans “criminals” and “drug dealers” said, “the extraordinary contributions of Mexican Americans are felt in every industry, every community, and every facet of our nation . . . the Mexican people are incredible .They upheld our highest values: God, family, and country.”
While Trump courts Mexico, Latino communities are facing many uncertainties during the Covid-19 crisis. According to the CDC, Latino communities face a disproportionate infection race due to healthcare disparities. In the wealth gap, a pew survey showed that 61 percent of Hispanices reported someone to have lost their job due to coronavirus.
Castro, who recently announced that his stepmother died from Covid-19, and his father is fighting the virus, has been vocal about how the Trump Administration has treated Black and brown communities disproportionately. He pointed out that wealthy Hispanics like Unanue have “profited mightily from the very people Donald Trump has treated like a piñata for political gain,” while poorer communities. As Goya’s support goes back-and-forth, the balance of Trump support and Latino health is yet to be determined.
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