The PJ Tatler

Alaska Congressman Walks Back Use of the Word 'Wetback'

Alaska’s 30-year congressman, who’s no stranger to controversial remarks, walked back his use of the word “wetbacks” to describe Latino farm workers.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said in an interview with a Ketchikan radio station aired Thursday. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

After the quote spread quickly across the country, Young issued a statement to local media.

“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,” Young said. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.”

The comment comes as the GOP is trying to make inroads with Hispanic voters.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus lashed out at the party for Young’s words.

“I agree that now, more than ever, we must resolve the many issues of our broken immigration system, but as we move forward, it’s important that our Republican colleagues are mindful of how words have consequences. When elected officials use racial slurs, it sets back our nation and sets back legislators who are seriously working toward real, bipartisan solutions,” said caucus chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas).

“Rep. Young says that he was just using the language he was accustomed to as he grew up, but there is no excuse for ignorance. He has served alongside Hispanics in Congress since 1973, so he should know terms like ‘wetback’ have never been acceptable,” Hinojosa continued. “As the Republican minority outreach efforts develop, I’d advise their strategists to list ‘don’t say racial slurs like “wetback”‘as a bedrock for their messaging.”

Hinjosa called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to condemn Young’s words “and ask members in their party to act responsibly.”

Young is currently being investigated — again — by the House Ethics Committee for allegations of misusing campaign coffers and lying to federal officials.