Goya Foods Sinks Taking One of the Last Strings of Latino Cultural Appropriation

Goya food BELatina Latinx

You hear that? That is the sound of Goya cans of beans, powder sachets and Adobo jars being thrown into the trash by Hispanics all over the U.S.

When the CEO of Goya Foods Robert Unanue stood beside President Trump at the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon and praised the administration, saying “we’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump,” it was as if Unanue was giving every Latino in the country a slap in the face.

The intended celebratory comments marking Trump’s signing of an executive order promising to improve access to educational and economic opportunities for Hispanic Americans instead fueled a storm of reaction against Unanue and Goya that culminated in widespread calls to boycott the popular brand, The Washington Post explained.

The thing is, if anyone has benefited from the U.S. Hispanic market, it’s Goya Foods.

The Goya company, which describes itself as “the premier source for authentic Latino cuisine,” was founded in 1936 by Prudencio Unanue and his wife Carolina, both immigrants from Spain, who launched the brand by opening a small store in lower Manhattan.

“Driven by the belief that there was a growing consumer market for high-quality, fresh-tasting, Latin foods, the Unanues catered to local Hispanic families by distributing authentic Spanish products including olives, olive oil, and sardines,” according to Goya’s website.

Goya, which is now headquartered in New Jersey, has since grown to have 26 facilities across the United States, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Spain and employs thousands of people worldwide. As of 2014, the Unanues were reportedly worth $1.1 billion, according to Forbes.

Although former President Barack Obama honored Goya back in 2011 for its “commitment to serving Latinos,” the reality is that, in the Trump era, you can’t be both with God and with the Devil.

The response of the Hispanic community to Unanue’s comments was quick, and social networks began to organize what has been called the #BoycottGoya, a call to abandon the use of their products in response to their support of a president who has persecuted and stigmatized the community throughout his administration.

One of the first to respond was Bronx representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who retweeted an image of the news conference and added: “Oh look, it’s the sound of me Googling ‘how to make your own Adobo.’”

Similarly, Julián Castro, former presidential candidate and former housing secretary for the Obama administration, also wrote on Twitter that, considering that Goya Foods has been “a staple” of Latino households for generations, it is time to look for other alternatives.

“Now their CEO, Bob Unanue, is praising a president who villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain,” he wrote. “Americans should think twice before buying their products. #Goyaway.”

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization, also defended the boycott.

“GOYA is turning its back on our community to appease a President who attacks and demonizes Latinos daily,” said Domingo Garcia, National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens in a statement on Friday. “I will recommend adoption of a national boycott against GOYA Foods unless Mr. Unanue issues a public apology and formal retraction by 5PM EST Saturday.”

But for President Trump’s conservatives and supporters, the backlash against Goya is an attack on “freedom of speech.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Friday said calls for a boycott of Goya Foods because its CEO praised President Trump were an attempt to “silence free speech,” the Texas Tribune reported.

“Goya is a staple of Cuban food. My grandparents ate Goya black beans twice a day for nearly 90 years. And now the Left is trying to cancel Hispanic culture and silence free speech,” Cruz tweeted on Friday.

Unanue, for his part, has refused to back down.

In an appearance on Fox News, the food company’s CEO said: “You’re allowed to talk good or to praise one president, but you’re not allowed — when I was called to be part of this commission to aid in economic and educational prosperity and you make a positive comment, all of a sudden that’s not acceptable.”

In the midst of an identity crisis as acute as the one the country is currently experiencing, Goya Foods’ fall from grace is the latest symptom of a community tired of being important enough to be an economic target, but not recognized enough to be respected.

Perhaps it’s time to reclaim the cuisine of our abuelitas and abandon the system that sustains the authoritarian germ rooted in the White House.