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BY THE BOOTSRAPS: FLAMIN’ HOT CHEETO INVENTION IS AN URBAN LEGEND

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Our favorite snack with a dreamy tale of success is possibly a lie. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are the pinnacle of Latino millennial culture, especially if they’re drenched in nacho cheese sauce. And it doesn’t help that one of our greatest symbols of growing up Latino in the U.S. was also the work of a Mexican immigrant, or so it was until recent claims, according to a report by The Los Angeles Times. 

It’s all about a story where an immigrant, Frito-Lay janitor pitches a hit product to the company’s CEO and climbs up the corporate ladder because of his invention. It sounds like an 80’s daydream, or a plotline to a really good bootstraps movie directed by Eva Longoria.

The story about that janitor, Richard Montañez, is one of all good feelings and great motivation for the Latino community. It’s all about working hard and achieving the so-called American dream. Montañez, now a motivational speaker, eventually became an executive at PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay, according to an article by Business Insider.

However, a story recently published by The Los Angeles Times states that there is no evidence, archival or personal, that Montañez invented the spicy snack. According to the article, the popular snack was created by snack food professionals to compete with other spicy snacks in 1989.

Montañez memoir, and soon to be biopic, talks about a defining moment where hundreds of executives came into a conference room to hear his idea—an event that people who worked at Frito-Lay at the time said never happened. The companies Frito-Lay and PepsiCo have talked about Montañez involvement of the product before The Times’ article was published, but have now retracted their statements. They, however, do not discredit Montañez’s other work with the companies.

Since the story published, Letters to the Editor have been sent to The Times where one of them makes a really good point: Latino history is often sidelined or unrecorded, so how do we know if the rebuttals are true? Perhaps this is another attempt at stealing a Latino victory. From indigenous prints and designs being used in big fashion brands to street corn being ripped off in trendy restaurants, it is a narrative that Latinos know all too well.

The idea isn’t farfetched, but what does this mean to Latino millennials who were inspired by Montañez’s story every time they took a bite of the spicy snack? Flamin’ Hot Cheetos has become so embedded into our culture that whether Montañez made it or not, it possibly won’t matter. What this urban legend has inspired and created for Latino millennials is what matters in the end.

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