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Goya Foods CEO's Praise Of Trump Causes Backlash Among Latino Communities

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Goya Foods is one of the nation's largest Latino food companies. Goya products are staples in millions of Latino homes. But now thousands of its customers are boycotting the company after its CEO lavished praise on President Trump. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: It's hard to overstate how ubiquitous the Goya brand is in Latino households, especially on the East Coast. So when CEO Robert Unanue appeared at the White House as part of a Hispanic roundtable on Thursday, many of his customers were surprised to hear him say this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT UNANUE: We're all truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder. And that's what my grandfather did. He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper.

FLORIDO: Advin Illa is a Puerto Rican actor living in New York City. He saw the video online.

ADVIN ILLA: I was honestly, like, enraged. I was like, I'm not going to support this company if the CEO is supporting someone who has been horrible towards Latinos. So I just got - grabbed all my products and, you know, tossed them.

FLORIDO: Cans of black beans and gandules, adobo seasoning, recaito. He posted a picture of his trash can on Twitter before realizing he'd rather donate the food. He said it hurt because there's a lifelong connection to Goya.

ILLA: But for me, I'm done with the brand forever.

FLORIDO: Illa is one of thousands of people who swiftly made the same pledge on social media under the #BoycottGoya. Ian Bautista did, too. He's Mexican American. His wife is Puerto Rican. They live in Milwaukee.

IAN BAUTISTA: You know, basically pandering to a president who has made it a point to vilify Latinos, specifically Mexicans, but Central Americans and others as well. And then he didn't make any friends in the Puerto Rican island when he went down post-Maria either, so...

FLORIDO: The backlash, though, did not seem to faze Bob Unanue, whose grandfather, an immigrant from Spain, founded Goya in New York a century ago. On Friday morning, he appeared on Fox News and defended his praise of the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNANUE: I'm not apologizing for saying - and especially if you're called by the president of the United States, you're going to say, no, I'm sorry. I'm busy.

FLORIDO: Polls show that about 30% of the nation's Latinos support President Trump. Still, the overwhelming majority don't see things the way Goya's CEO does. Arlene Davila is a professor at NYU who wrote a history about how companies market to Latinos.

ARLENE DAVILA: In the case of Goya, it has taken decades of really selling and trafficking in Latino-ness (ph), this kind of connection with home countries in a can of beans, let's say.

FLORIDO: She said that kind of relationship comes with responsibility. She said that at a time of great anger over the separation of immigrant families, detention centers and growing calls for racial justice...

DAVILA: For a CEO of a company that is so identified with Latino culture to not advocate for their well-being and the rights of a community that you are profiting from for decades, that, I think, really hits at the core of why people are so angry but also highly disappointed.

FLORIDO: Davila said the boycott is no surprise. Latinos have a long history of boycotting. Ian Bautista from Milwaukee said cutting ties with Goya will be inconvenient but not impossible.

BAUTISTA: I hold a much longer grudge than Elsa, my wife does. I haven't eaten a grape since I met Cesar Chavez in, like, 1990, so (laughter).

FLORIDO: He said they'll rely on other brands and homemade recipes. Adrian Florido, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "FANSHAWE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.