JERSEY CITY, NJ - Praise of President Donald Trump by the CEO of New Jersey-based Goya has stirred up some strong passions in the local Latino community, although most believe the proposed retaliation will be ineffective.
Latinos are politically divided when it comes to Trump because of his policies toward immigration and what some see as derogatory comments about Hispanics attributed to him.
Puerto Ricans, who make up a huge portion of the Latino population in Hudson County – especially Jersey City – are still bitter over Trump’s handling of recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria two years ago. Trump, however, has strong support among Cuban and Venezuelans
Goya CEO Robert Unanue joined Trump last week at a Rose Garden appearance to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
"We are truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder," Unanue said, causing an outcry from Trump critics. Appearing on Fox Network a few days later, Unanue refused to apologize for the remarks or for his appearance with Trump at the White House.
Former Jersey City Councilman Khemraj Chico Ramchal said a boycott of Goya will not be effective.
“Goya is a staple brand in many households across the country. The average family depends on their reliability and standards,” he said. “Robert Unanue standing his ground speaks volumes about his integrity and understanding of how the food market works. He was honored by the Obamas twice, once in 2011 by President Obama and then again in 2012 by Michelle.”
Former West New York Mayor Felix Roque also believes the boycott will not resonate with the Hispanic community. “Goya products are like chicken soup to this community,” he said. “People are very local to the brand.”
Jose Arango, director of the Jersey City Department of Economic Development, as well as the chairman of the Republican Party in Hudson County, said Goya gives back to the community, 42 percent of which is said to be Hispanic. “Goya represents the needs of the Hispanic community,” he said. “They are first to respond when there is a need, whether it is for the Hispanic community or not.”
Goya regularly donates food to five local food pantries, donated to the Golden Door Charter School in Jersey City to help construct a playground, and created an annual $20,000 scholarship to the Hudson County Schools of Technology-County Prep High School Culinary program.
“Goya donates to Catholic Charities which supplies many of the food pantries that help the Hispanic community. Many Hispanics have been hurt by the shutdown due to the Coronavirus, and Goya has been there to help them,” Arango said. “During Hurricane Sandy, Goya was first to send containers and portable kitchens to places like Hoboken.”
Roque said whenever there was a disaster, he could pick up the phone and call Goya for help.
“During Sandy, they sent thousands of pounds of food to West New York. This is an awesome company.”
Goya’s presence at the White House, Arango said, gives the Latino access to the president.
“What is being said by the CEO of Goya is that he’ll support Trump, but that the president has to give back to the Hispanic community,” Arango offered. “You don’t think it was an accident that after that meeting Mexico and the United States came to an agreement on immigration.”
Arango said Goya remains a powerful voice for Hispanics, and that the threat of a boycott may actually bring more people to support Goya. “Even some Democrats won’t follow this because they know it is being led by an extremist part of their party,” he said.
“This is a poster story for the American Dream,” Arango, who in his day job was instrumental in the discussions that allowed Goya to establish their local world headquarters, added. “And it is a big accomplishment to have one of the biggest Hispanic owned companies in the world come to Jersey City.”
Goya, founded in 1936, remains one of the largest family-owned businesses in the country.
Gov. Christopher Christie supported granting $82 million in tax credits over the next 10 years to keep the company in the state. To entice the company to relocate some of its operations from Secaucus, Jersey City gave the company almost $8 million in local tax abatements over 20 years as well.
Boasting a commanding share of the Latino market in the Northeast, Goya manufactures, packages, and distributes over 2,500 high-quality food products from Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America. Goya products have their roots in the culinary traditions of Hispanic communities around the world.
Hispanics have a potential buying power of well over $600 billion a year in the U.S., spending about $60 billion on food alone. The Census Bureau estimates that the Latino population will increase by another 55 percent nationwide once the 2020 census is complete. The largest individual group in the United States are Mexicans or people of Mexican decent – or about 60 percent of all Latinos living in the United States, followed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans.
Although the state’s Latino population is mostly Puerto Rican, there has been a shift in the rest of the state’s Latino ethnic makeup over the last generation, with immigrants or the descendants of immigrants from Mexico and Dominican Republic replacing Cubans as the second largest Latino group. Others hail from places like Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and other nations from Central and South America.
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