The Right Wing

GOP Rep. Calls Latino Workers "Wetbacks"

The Alaska Congressman says he "meant no disrespect" when he used a slur with a painful history for Latino migrants.


Representative Donald Young (R-AK) issued a half-assed apology for using the slur “wetback” to describe Latino workers who worked on his father’s ranch decades ago. In a statement, Young says he “meant no disrespect” when he used the racial epithet in a radio interview.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Young said Thursday on KRBD, a station based in southern southeast Alaska, “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

The Internet quickly picked up on Young’s racist comment, forcing the 40-year congressman to clarify in a statement to Anchorage Daily News:

During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California … I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.

In other words, the sixth most senior member of Congress took more than half a century to evolve beyond using an antiquated epithet that was never really okay in the first place. As Alexander Abad-Santos pointed out for The Atlantic Wire, Young would have been 21-years-old when the U.S. created Operation Wetback in 1954 to battle illegal immigration. The term refers to all undocumented workers, and has been historically used to denigrate Mexicans.

Lupe Marroquin, president of the Hispanic Affairs Council of Alaska, suggested that the congressman’s slip reveals a hidden prejudice against migrant workers.

"It kind of opens your eyes to the way Don Young thinks," Marroquin told Anchorage Daily News, "He didn't even pause. It's like that's just what he calls migrant farm workers.”

Young’s racist gaffe isn’t the only ongoing controversy plaguing the Alaska Congressman’s career. Just two weeks ago, the House Ethics Committee launched a special panel to investigate whether Young failed to report gifts on financial disclosure forms.



Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.

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