(CNN) — The hashtag #Goyaway was trending on social media Friday after Robert Unanue, CEO of Goya Foods, appeared in the White House Rose Garden Thursday afternoon and praised President Donald Trump.
“We are all truly blessed … to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder,” Unanue said during the Rose Garden speech. “We have an incredible builder, and we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president.”
The fact that Unanue would associate with Trump was sufficient to anger some of America’s most prominent Hispanic leaders. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested in a tweet that she’d boycott Goya.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro acknowledged Goya’s “staple” status in Latino households, but he encouraged people to reconsider buying Goya after Unanue’s White House appearance.
President Trump is unpopular among Hispanic Americans. Hispanics favor Vice President Joe Biden over Trump in the race for president by a 36 percentage-point margin, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll. Trump began his campaign by criticizing Mexican immigrants for being “rapists” and bringing drugs into the United States. He has spent much of his presidency trying to build a wall along the southern US border and enacted a policy that separated children from parents when they were apprehended at the border.
Unanue was invited to the White House as part of President Trump’s Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order aimed at improving Hispanic Americans’ access to educational and economic opportunities.
In an interview with Fox News Friday, Unanue said he was “not apologizing,” and called the boycott movement “suppression of speech.”
Unanue claimed a double standard in the reaction to his laudatory remarks about Trump, noting he accepted an invitation from Michelle Obama in 2012 to an event in Tampa, Florida, to promote the former first lady’s healthy-eating initiative.
“You’re allowed to talk good or talk praise to one president but you’re not — when I was called to be part of this commission to aid in economic and educational prosperity and you make a positive comment, all the sudden that’s not acceptable,” Unanue told Fox News. “If you’re called by the president of the United States, you’re going to say, ‘No I’m sorry, I’m busy, no thank you?’ I didn’t say that to the Obamas and I didn’t say that to President Trump.”
In his brief remarks at the White House Thursday, Unanue announced Goya would donate 1 million cans of Goya chickpeas and 1 million other food products to American food banks. He said the company wanted to help families hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are very proud to give back to this nation, to the food banks which are going to be needing some of that important food,” he said.
A Goya spokesman said the purpose of Unanue’s White House appearance was to announce the donation and support Trump’s initiative. Goya did not comment on the boycott calls.
Unanue has donated to Republicans in recent years, including $6,000 to the Republican National Committee and $1,000 to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2017 when he was running for president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Unanue also gave to $2,300 to New Jersey’s Democratic Senator Robert Menendez in 2010.
Robert’s brother Peter, who serves as Goya’s executive vice president, gave $100,000 to the anti-abortion National Right to Life Victory fund in 2012. And other Unanue family members who are shareholders of Goya have given thousands of dollars to other, mostly Republican candidates and politicians, including Trump.
Goya, based in Secaucus, New Jersey, was founded in 1936 by Unanue’s grandfather, who immigrated from Spain. It remains a privately held, family-owned business.