A full house enjoyed an evening filled with music, good food, awards and an inspirational speech from the creator of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos during the 13th annual Hobbs Hispano Chamber of Commerce banquet Friday night at the Lea County Event Center.
Before the meal was served, guests could raid the centerpiece for candy and bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. They could also help themselves to tortilla chips and queso.
After dinner, representatives from each of the HHCC’s community partners accepted awards. Organizations that received awards were AG Custom Sheet Metal, New Mexico Junior College, Urenco USA, Kassis Companies and OMG Printing.
The award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year went to Jose Moreno of Hydrostream Oilfield Services. Volunteer of the Year was Paco Hernandez of J&J Rentals. United Realty LLC was named Business of the Year, and the Business Person of the Year was awarded to Juan Moreno and Alicia Moreno.
After the presentation of awards, master of ceremonies Jonathan Sena introduced the keynote speaker for the evening, Richard P. Montañez, who worked his way up to executive vice-president of multicultural sales and community activation for PepsiCo’s North American Division.
Montañez, who started as a janitor at Frito-Lay, created Frito-Lay’s Flamin’ Hot line of products. Those products are now a billion-dollar a year business and are a “cultural phenomenon.”
Montañez, whose story is from rags to riches, began his speech by saying, “It’s hard to be humble when you know you’re really great,” which drew loud laughter from the crowd.
One of the recurring themes in his speech was to “remember where you came from.” Part of where he came from was his birth in a labor camp. During his childhood, he lived in circumstances that required him to eat breakfast with 10 other families every morning.
Montañez started school during the civil rights movement, when busing students was common.
“When I started to school, the big yellow school bus came up the street and it stopped and all the white kids got on it, but we couldn’t get on it,” he said. “Then, a green bus came up and that was the one we were supposed to ride. They sent the ugly green bus because the Latin kids weren’t good enough to ride the yellow bus.”
His sense that he was considered not good enough was compounded when he pulled a burrito out of his lunch box and his classmates laughed at him. When he went home and yelled at his mother, she put two burritos in his lunch box the next day with instructions to share the extra one. After that, he was considerably more important.
Montañez said he cried because he didn’t want to attend the school where he was sent because he didn’t speak English. Apparently, the school he attended didn’t have a program to teach non-English speakers the language because when he applied for his job as janitor at Frito-Lay, he had to have someone else fill out the application.
When he was hired as a janitor, Montañez’ grandfather told him to be sure when he mopped the floor, to make it shine. His grandfather also said, “Whatever you do, remember your last name.”
Among other words of wisdom were: “You will never get paid what you are worth;” “You get promoted by who knows you, not by who you know;” there is “no such thing as just a janitor or just a waiter;” “to inspire is to breathe life into someone;” “Yourself is the best thing you can be;” and “revelation leads to revolution.”
Montañez, recognized by Fortune and Newsweek magazines as one of the most influential Hispanics in the United States and known for his visionary leadership and his ability to develop new products like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, ended his speech with a story about being at a place where he and his Latino friends were lined up on one side and the Anglo kids were lined up on the other.
“I broke the line,” he said. “And I got in the line where they were handing out cookies. Always get in the cookie line,” he encouraged the crowd.