Goya Foods may still “be good,” as its advertising says. But CEO Robert Unanue’s recent praise of President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE left a terrible taste in the mouths of many Latinos across the country and others who regularly consume Goya products.
Last Thursday, Unanue was at the White House to announce that Goya would donate a million cans of chickpeas and a million pounds of food to U.S. food banks. The announcement was part of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative created by a Trump executive order to improve access to educational and economic opportunities.
Under normal circumstances, that would be cause for celebration. But nothing is normal in Trump’s America.
From the moment Trump announced his candidacy, calling many Mexicans who cross the border illegally rapists and criminals, he has regularly denigrated, devalued and dehumanized Latinos and immigrants.
From his efforts to spend billions for a border wall, to separating families and putting kids in cages at the border, to calling MS-13 gang members “animals,” to slashing family-based immigration, to floating repeal of birthright citizenship, to wanting to include a citizenship question on the U.S. Census, to trying to take health care away from 10 million Latinos by repealing the Affordable Care Act, to taking away deportation protections from “Dreamers,” to…well, the list goes on.
Unanue must have been aware of Trump’s dismal record and insulting rhetoric towards Latinos. And even if he didn’t agree with the sentiments of his Latino customers and consumers who do not like or approve of Trump, he must have known that saying that America is “truly blessed to have a leader like Trump” would be a slap in the face of the Latino community.
The backlash was fast and fierce. Many Latino civil rights organizations condemned Unanue’s comments. Social media exploded with ire against Unanue, and calls for a Goya boycott began, as #Goyaway trended on Twitter.
Then came the backlash to the backlash. Many Trump supporters suddenly became Goya consumers, seemingly coming to the aid of a businessman who was being criticized for lavishing praise on a president they adore.
It all came to a head when Ivanka TrumpIvanka TrumpTrump attacks Meghan McCain and her family McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Grisham: Time in Trump administration 'will follow me forever' MORE took a picture of herself holding up a can of Goya black beans and posted it on social media, with the company’s slogan – “If it’s Goya it has to be good” – in English and in Spanish. And then President Trump showed a picture of himself sitting behind the legendary symbol of presidential power – the Resolute Desk – with an array of Goya products on display.
Set aside that both images may cross a line – ethically and perhaps legally – by using the White House for marketing purposes or official product endorsements, these actions show a disregard for how most Latinos feel under this president, a conscious disrespect for a group that will be the biggest ethnic minority voting bloc in the upcoming election.
I am under no illusion that a boycott of Goya will be widespread or do any real damage to Unanue’s pocketbook. But that does not detract from the real furor Unanue caused with his comments, and the frustration at his apparent ignorance as to why they were so hurtful.
Unanue seemed genuinely taken aback by the backlash. He said on Fox News that he would not apologize for his comments and that calls for a boycott were “suppression of speech” and a double standard because he had been to events with President Obama and praised him as well.
I do not take offense at Unanue’s political leanings, whatever they may be. He has every right to be a Republican or even a Trump supporter and to go to the White House when invited. That is not the problem. The problem is that Unanue has now given Trump another wedge issue with which to deflect, distract and deceive.
Most Americans do not feel blessed that Trump is our president, as evidenced by Trump’s collapsing poll numbers. The most important action we can take to show Unanue how we really feel is to vote in massive numbers in November.
Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.