I live in upstate New York, twenty miles from the Canadian border. Moving up here, my family and I knew we would have to make adjustments. My wife and I grew up in the Bronx, in traditional Puerto Rican households. We both have undeniably acculturated to US mainstream culture, but we also have retained much of our Boricua cultural heritage. That means all those elements embedded in our lived experience with Puerto Rican parents who set the cultural markers. So, we experienced their music, their Spanish words streaming through the house, and the wonderful smells of food we learned to love.
Often, it’s food that cements our sense of identity, isn’t it? Perhaps, even more than language, it’s what triggers memories of home, and therefore of your cultural essence. We had left Puerto Rico to come to upstate New York, and wandered off the cultural map entirely. This wasn’t the Bronx, either; the established Puerto Rican capital in the states. We thought we’d never find maduros, tostones, yuca, adobo, Cafe Bustelo or Goya products. But, we did. Right there in the special “Hispanic” aisle.
Brand Loyalty and Cultural Relevancy
That was a moment of cultural re-connection. Adapting to the North Country became easier with the simple luxury of having these products. It was also a moment that confirms the importance of cultural relevancy for marketing to Latinx (or “Hispanics’). Hernan Tagliani, CEO and Founder of The Group Advertising, often lectures on how to reach this market. In his blog, he writes how reaching Latinx is not the same as engaging them. If companies do not understand the importance of hitting our “passion points” (family, culture, heritage, music, art, sport and food), they will fail.
That Latinx buy those products that have cultural relevance to them may not be a new concept. I’m sure that many immigrants did the same. But Latinx are not similar to past immigrants to this country in one significant way: geographic distance. We were all born in this hemisphere. For that same reason, we have a revolving door relationship with our homelands. Spanish was the first European language spoken in this part of the world and it has maintained its dominance. As cited in a previous blog, it’s the most spoken language in the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, we are always connected to our maternal tongue.
We embrace our cultural roots because it’s so easy to do when all the elements that make our cultural identity surround us. We constantly hear our music, have access to our food, have media options directed to us, in both Spanish and English, sometimes in Spanglish. We can fly across the country and find Latinx culture thriving everywhere. If we get nostalgic for the homeland, we hop a plane and get culturally recharged. That was not the case for many Europeans who left their countries. Some managed to keep their cultural heritage alive. However, without the type of cultural immersion that Latinx experience, it was much more difficult to maintain theirs.
Brand loyalty for Latinx goes beyond consumer complacency. It represents a profound cultural bond. Whenever we pick up a brick of Bustelo, a six-pack of Corona, or any Goya product, it’s an act of cultural affirmation and confirmation. Not surprising, marketing studies have shown the least acculturated Latinx consumers have the highest level of brand loyalty (47%). Conversely, the more acculturated tend to be less loyal (34%).
A Betrayal of Our Trust
Considering the emotional ties we may have with Goya, it’s startling to see the call for a national boycott. However, looking deeper at the context, you quickly understand. CEO Robert Unanue broke the loyalty we have for Goya products when he betrayed our trust.
If as a community, our passion points include family, culture and heritage, how was he supporting those when he praised the president? A man who has consistently demonstrated hatred and racism against us? A man who has administered the most barbaric anti-immigration policies in recent history, which include separating hundreds of Latinx families from their children.
How can he praise the leadership of a man who has shown no compassion or empathy toward Latinx people suffering at higher levels than other Americans during the crises he is incapable of handling. Unanue calls these actions, and others, a “blessing.” He praised him for being a “builder” when his biggest building project to date has been his Wall of Hate. A wall to keep out what he called “bad people,” “rapists” and “drug dealers.”
How can he praise someone who the majority of us disapprove of, if not outright loathe or despise? How can a Hispanic person in charge of the largest Latinx company in the US not understand the insensitivity of these comments to his consumer base? How can any intelligent, critical, honest human being extol this man’s record?
Unfortunately, Unanue has forced many of us to decide between not buying Goya products or selling out. I cannot speak for other Latinx, but I refuse to sell my conscience for a can of beans.