Latinos boycotting Goya say it's not about politics. It's about standing against Trump's 'hate'

“Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexican Americans — we made that company," one former customer said. "It hurt me, coming from Goya."
Image: Products by Goya Foods Company seen on shelves of Stop&Shop
Products by Goya Foods Company on shelves of Stop & Shop supermarket in the Bronx, New York on July 10, 2020.Lev Radin / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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By Raul A. Reyes

When Ricardo Alvarado went grocery shopping this week, he had a list of items to buy, but he steered clear of anything from Goya Foods. “I was using their beans, but I found a different brand," he said. "I switched olive oil, too, and I bought my own spices, not theirs."

A performing artist based in New York City, Alvarado is boycotting Goya Foods. “As long as I’m helping my community, I will do my part. It’s important that we show unity and solidarity.”

The CEO of Goya Foods, Robert Unanue, plunged the company into turmoil last week when he praised President Donald Trump at an event announcing the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative. “We’re all truly blessed, at the same time, to have leader like President Trump who is a builder,” Unanue said. He compared the president to his grandfather, a Spanish immigrant who founded the company in 1936.

News of Unanue’s words spread quickly, and hashtags like #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya trended on social media.

For Alvarado, boycotting Goya Foods is personal. “I know the company employs a lot of Latinos and is very charitable,” he said, “but with everything that is going on with this administration and the border, the family separations and DACA, for Goya to step up and support him [Trump] for his work just blew my mind.”

“There is so much hate against our communities,” Alvarado said. “And the face of that hate is Trump. I feel like Goya is supporting hate, by supporting Trump.”

As far back as Cesar Chavez’s boycotts of grapes during the 1970s, consumer campaigns have been a way for Latino communities to amplify their voices. But the Goya episode feels different to many Latinos, because it come at a time when the nation is politically polarized and some Latinos report feeling under siege.

The “Boycott Goya” movement, some Latinos say, is more about taking a stand against the president’s bigotry than about punishing a once-beloved brand.

Valerie Halsema, a teacher in Los Angeles, said that she relates to both sides of the Goya issue. “I support the boycott, but I also support his [Unanue’s] right to say what he wants. If he wants to say that, go for it," said Halsema, "but anytime you take a stance, there are consequences, and I’m not sure he was ready for it.”

Halsema noted that “where I would draw the line is death threats, harassment and people trying to totally shut someone down.” The idea of the boycott is a good one, she believes, because “Donald Trump has not exactly been a champion of people of color. He’s been so divisive. I would say I support the boycott — and free speech.”

Unanue’s comments have led to public figures like Lin Manuel-Miranda, chef José Andrés, actor John Leguizamo, former Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez,D-N.Y., to express support for a Goya boycott or criticize Unanue’s comments.

That led to pro-Goya tweets from Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump that have kept the controversy brewing.

So far, Unanue is standing by his words. In an interview on “Fox and Friends” last week, he likened the backlash to “suppression of speech.” Speaking on “The Ingraham Angle,” he said: “We have the opportunity to either do well, or to destroy. And let’s do well.”

Host Laura Ingraham asked Unanue if he planned on apologizing for standing with Trump, and he replied: “Hell, no. Hell, no.”

Goya Foods has, in a sense, participated in a boycott itself, when the company led other corporations in withdrawing support for the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2017. That year, parade organizers were honoring Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera, whose sentence for seditious conspiracy was commuted by President Barack Obama.

Several national Latino advocacy groups have weighed in on Unanue’s recent remarks. In a statement Friday, the Hispanic Federation called the comments “both painful and insulting.” The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) called Unanue’s words “insensitive, calloused and disrespectful to the workers and consumers who buy Goya Foods products.”

"This is not a party issue"

For Melinda Colón Cox, president of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, the decision to issue a statement regarding Goya Foods was complicated by the fact the company is based in her state, and the organization likely has some members with strong ties to the company.

“When an issue like this arises, we take it very seriously and we do our best to look at the full perspective of views based on the available facts,” Colón Cox said.

Among other factors, her members considered that Trump has a history of making disparaging remarks about Latinos and that Goya Foods prides itself on being part of the Hispanic community and consumer culture.

“It is undeniable that Goya is known for its charity and philanthropic efforts,” Colón Cox said, “yet Mr. Unanue’s remarks led to pain, hurt, and anger for a very large sector of the Latino community.”

Colón Cox’s group is nonpartisan, with members holding diverse political views. “This is not a party issue,” she said. Although she personally is supporting the boycott, her group is not endorsing it.

Colón Cox hopes that Unanue and Goya Foods can heal the anger among some Latinos by reflecting on the reasons behind the boycott. “Words are powerful and they impact how a company is perceived by the public.” Along with other measures, she believes that a statement from Goya acknowledging the boycott itself and why it is happening would be a start in helping to rebuild community trust.

Not a decision "taken lightly"

Maria De Moya, an associate professor of communications at DePaul University in Chicago, was surprised by Unanue’s remarks. “I feel that Goya has been a brand that has always done a good job at celebrating immigrants and Latino culture, everything that this administration seems against.”

Any CEO is entitled to his or her political views, De Moya explained, but when an executive is speaking on behalf of a brand, they owe it to the company, to investors and to their employees to represent the brand in the best way.

“Giving passionate, public praise to President Trump, and then not backing down from the backlash, does not strike me as wise," she said.

De Moya added that a boycott does not have to cripple or bankrupt a company to be considered successful. Consumer boycotts can have the cumulative effect of subjecting a company to greater scrutiny in the press.

“A boycott can also be successful simply by getting information out there about the company’s values," she said. "While there are Latinos who support Trump who will continue to buy Goya, there are certain customers the company will probably never get back.”

In New York, Ricardo Alvarado said his decision to boycott Goya Foods was not one he took lightly. “I’ll be honest, it hurt me, coming from Goya. It hit home for me in a hard way.”

“We made Goya, we made them. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Mexican Americans — we made that company,” he said. For Alvarado, it doesn’t matter if others do not continue the boycott, or if it eventually dies out. “I have made my decision. I will keep my word; I am done with them.”

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