Goya Foods: Hispanic brand faces boycott for praising Trump

A popular Hispanic-owned food company is facing calls for a boycott, after its chief executive praised US President Donald Trump.

While at the White House, Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue said Mr Trump’s leadership was a blessing.

Goya Foods – sold in the US and many Latin countries – is the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the US.

But now many of its loyal customers and some high-profile Democrats are calling for a boycott of the firm.

How did this start?

On Thursday, Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods, attended an event at the White House where President Trump signed the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, which was described as an effort to improve access to educational and economic opportunities.

Mr Unanue praised the president at the event, saying: “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder.”

Critics said his comments were tone deaf to the community Goya Foods largely serves.

During his first election campaign, Mr Trump said some Mexican immigrants were “rapists”. He is also pursuing controversial anti-immigration policies, seeking to end a policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented youths from deportation, and trying to build a southern border wall.

Many users have since said they will no longer use the products, known as staples of authentic Latin cuisine.

Boycotters have shared alternative brands and recipes online, with the hashtags #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya trending on social media.

Why is this a big deal?

Some customers say they have grown up with a sense of cultural attachment to the brand, but now feel let down by the CEO’s comments.

“Goya is such a staple amongst people of colour,” longtime supporter Autasia Ramos told the BBC, adding that it was popular with both American and immigrant households.

Ms Ramos said she had relied on the company for affordable products that are normally hard to find, but are key ingredients in Hispanic cuisines.

Yet, she added, she now felt “disheartened” by the company, and planned to stop buying its products.

“I hope people choose not to support so the CEO really feels the effect of abandoning the community that supports his company.”

Celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also say they have decided to boycott the company.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a New York lawmaker, tweeted that she would now learn how to make her own Adobo, a popular marinade in Hispanic cuisine, rather than buying it from Goya Foods.

Meanwhile, former presidential candidate Julián Castro said that while the brand had “been a staple of so many Latino households for generations”, Americans should “think twice before buying their products”, given that their CEO had praised “a president who villainises and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain”.

How has the company responded?

Mr Unanue has defended himself, and pointed out he has also worked with former US First Lady Michelle Obama on initiatives before.

“It’s suppression of speech,” he said. “I’m not apologising for saying – and especially when you’re called by the president of the United States – you’re gonna say, ‘no, I’m sorry I’m busy no thank you?'”

“I didn’t say that to the Obamas and I didn’t say that to President Trump.”

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Supporters of the company have pointed out that earlier this year, Goya donated over 300,000lb (136,077kg) of food, or about 270,000 meals, to food banks and organisations to help with coronavirus relief.

At Thursday’s event, Mr Unanue announced he would also donate one million cans of Goya chickpeas and 1m lb of food products to food banks to help families hurt by the pandemic.

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, condemned the backlash, tweeting “the leftist mob wants to cancel one of the largest Hispanic owned companies in America because they recognise that the president has shown great leadership? (Not very woke)”.

How important is the Hispanic vote?

According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos are expected to be the US’ largest ethnic minority in this year’s US presidential election, accounting for 13% of all eligible voters.

About 32 million Hispanics can vote – but that’s just over half of the 60 million Hispanics living in the US, Pew says – since a large proportion of adults are not citizens, or are undocumented.

The Latino vote isn’t monolithic either – Pew research suggests that 62% of Latino registered voters prefer the Democratic party, while 34% prefer the Republican party.

Observers say Hispanic voters tend to be more socially conservative, which makes the Republican party a more natural home. But immigration reform is important to them, which makes the Democrats more appealing.

While both President Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, are trying to gain voters from minority communities, this latest cultural clash highlights the complexities of winning over a group of voters who will be crucial in choosing the next occupant of the White House.

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