As Republicans struggle to find a way to increase their appeal to Latino voters and just days after Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus urged Republicans to stop saying “stupid, idiotic things” that contribute to the GOP’s demise, Veteran U.S. House Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) casually injected a racial slur about “wetbacks” into a radio interview on KRBD in Ketchican, Alaska on March 28. While discussing the economy, Young, 79, describing what life was like on his father’s California ranch, said “We used to hire 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”
The word “wetback” is a slur used to denigrate immigrant farm workers, and particularly Mexican or Mexican-American farm workers. The slur drew immediate rebuke from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the GOP leadership struggled to repair the damage. When House Speaker John Boehner demanded Young apologize, Young said he meant no disrespect and was just repeating the language of his youth. He did not, however, include an apology in his statement.