Along with strong café con leche, 1970s salsa records, and a dark brown fedora someone gave me for my birthday 15 years ago, I signal my ethnic identity with Caribbean cooking. I had never really liked how Goya monopolized the shelves of my grocery store, crowding out other brands that I had imagined were just as authentic and perhaps even cheaper. But Goya was there, it was edible, and it allowed me to continue in the tradition of eating rice and beans, which is an enduring part of how I make sense of the world.
Then came yesterday. Goya Chief Executive Robert Unanue stood the world on its head when he commented on the White House lawn that "we are all truly blessed ... to have a leader like President Trump." Unanue was making his remarks at a press event that announced something called the "White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative," in front of a gathering of a dwindling number of Hispanic Trump supporters.
All at once, Latinos took to social media, organized around the hashtags #BoycottGoya and #Goyaway, announcing they would no longer be consuming Unanue's products. There have been admonishments from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (of Puerto Rican descent) Julián Castro, (Mexican-American) and former US Representative Luis Gutiérrez (Puerto Rican). Journalist Roberto Lovato tweeted himself pouring a container of Adobo down his toilet bowl.
But the debate seems to involve more than just Latinos, since Goya has long been concerned with attracting non-Latino consumers, from Asians to white Americans, using English-language advertising slogans like "Goya, O-Boya." Even former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich has used the "pass it on" meme on Twitter about the boycott, as well as model Chrissy Teigen. For many non-Latinos, consuming Goya products is a fairly authentic, if superficial way to practice Latinidad.
While they fit into a pattern of the 26% of Latino voters who support Trump, Unanue's comments seem perplexing to the majority of Latino voters in the US. Trump has been enraging US Latinos going back to the dawn of his campaign, when he attacked immigrants from Mexico and Central America as criminals and rapists, as well as his callous indifference to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. In Trump's extreme version of Republicanism, scapegoating Latinos have engendered a climate of uneasiness and at times fear, all in the service of being meat for his xenophobic base of support.
In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Unanue doubled down on his comments, claiming calls for a boycott are "suppression of speech," while conservative tweeters like Senator Ted Cruz pushed back against "cancel culture." Unanue, who comes from a family of immigrants from Spain who have made Puerto Rico and the New York metro area their home, is fanning a controversy that feeds right into the culture wars that Trump seems to want to encourage. Over the last few months, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, it has only seemed to get worse. There have been recent on-the-ground clash