#NoMames: Rep. Young “Meant No Disrespect” When Calling Farm Workers “Wetbacks” in Public Radio Interview

Mar 29, 2013
10:47 AM

UPDATE, March 29, 2013, 4:45 pm EST: Young issued another apology.

UPDATE, March 29, 2013, 2pm EST: KRBD responded to our questions about its broadcast.

UPDATE, March 29, 2013, 12:30 pm EST: Speaker John Boehner issued a very strong statement calling Young’s comments “offensive” and “beneath the dignity of the office [Young] holds.”

Guess Alaska congressman Don Young hasn’t read the RNC’s latest memo about toning the rhetoric down against U.S. Latino voters. The Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives (no, we’re not talking about a local official, like we did last week) went on Alaska public radio station KRBD to address the country’s budget and at one point, when talking about the automation of jobs, said this: “I used to own — my father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Here is the audio clip. You can hear the full interview here.

After getting slammed online for his comments, Young issued the following statement:

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.


The statement also contained the following, as reported by The Washington Post:

In his statement, Young said migrant workers “play an important role in America’s workforce, and earlier in the said interview, I discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship. America must once and for all tackle the issue of immigration reform.

Yes, he backtracked, and his statement does very little. In the meantime, we did send an email to KRBD for comment as well. Our basic question is a simple one: why did the station allow such a slur to be broadcast and why did the reporter not follow up with a question about the slur, after it was broadcast? Once we hear from the station, we will share their response.

Additionally, where is the rest of the GOP on this? Why do they continue to stay silent when one of their uses slurs like “wetback” during serious public radio interview?

If the RNC wants to learn a thing or two, it should read what one Alaska Democrat had to say:

Lupe Marroquin, the president of the Hispanic Affairs Council of Alaska, said she was disappointed by Young’s remark.

“It kind of opens your eyes to the way Don Young thinks,” she said. “He didn’t even pause. It’s like that’s just what he calls migrant farm workers.”

Marroquin, a Democratic legislative candidate last fall, added, “It’s really bad form for Don Young to be using an ethnic slur to describe an ever growing population in the United States that means more to the economy than just picking fruit.”

And then there is this:

The Hispanic community is one of the fastest growing minority groups in Alaska, almost doubling in size between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. More than 40,000 Hispanics now live in the state, making up 6 percent of the population. In Anchorage, that number is 8 percent.

One GOP lawmaker has already called out Young, as this POLITICO story reports:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) criticized Young, a fellow Republican, for the image it creates of the party.

“Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families,” Cornyn said in a statement. “They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials. The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity.”

For the three of you who have no idea what the big fuss is all about, learn your history. Racism has been around for a while, just in case you were wondering.