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Letters to the Editor: Was the Times too hard on a Latino icon who exaggerated his role in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?

Bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos
Bags of Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at a convenience store.
(Tribune News Service / Getty Images)
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To the editor: It has been reported that before your investigation of Richard Montañez’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos origin story, the journalist who wrote it asked, “What if Montañez hadn’t told the truth?” The question was posed by someone who is not part of the culture in which this story is something of a modern legend.

Basically, The Times set out to investigate a hero in the Latino community who had no known record of causing any trouble or harm. The company where Montañez rose from entry-level employee to executive, Frito-Lay, had never spoken out against him.

I do not know Montañez. I do not believe in many of his corporate ideas, nor do I agree with the bootstrap mentality he pushes in his talks. But I know all too well how often white corporate America rips off creators of color. Sadly, you don’t have to go too far back in history to see it.

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I grew up here, and I distinctly remember the Montañez story because one of my good friends, a delivery driver for Frito-Lay at the time, told it to me. This was in 1996. Latinos tend not to document things. In a country that has taken so much from us, we have learned to preserve our history the way our culture has done for centuries — through our anecdotes and stories.

There is a blind side in your reporting that comes from The Times’ failure to build an actual Latino workforce. In 2020, in a county that more than 5 million of us call home, Latinos made up only 17% of your non-manager newsroom staff.

My dream is that one day, I will see a reflection of my culture in my local newspaper. Until more Latinos are hired, the paper will continue to misrepresent more than 5 million residents of Los Angeles County. I hope those days are over soon.

Yolanda Machado, North Hollywood

The writer is a freelance entertainment reporter whose journalism has appeared in The Times.

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To the editor: I cannot for the life of me understand the hatchet job you did on Montañez concerning whether or not he actually invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

With everything going on, you attack a Latino who actually did rise up the ranks, even though it may or may not have been exactly the way he said.

For God’s sakes, let the man have his story and his movie. With all the migrants piling up at our southern border, with all the children crying for their mothers, who cares if he really invented the snack?

Montañez did accomplish something, so why couldn’t you just let it be? Did pulling him down with pages of investigative journalism bring you some horrid sense of fulfillment?

Jan Richman Crosby Schulman, Oxnard

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To the editor: I am so happy for former Frito-Lay executive Lynne Greenfeld and her pride in being one of the actual creators behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

I invite her to come visit my third grade classroom (post-pandemic) and witness her creation in action. She will see children who think nothing of eating a whole family-size bag every day. She will witness the seeds being sown for salt addiction and take note of a wonderful example on how to jump-start a diabetes epidemic.

She can help me clean red powder gunk off all my keyboards and desks.

Christopher Damore, Fullerton

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