Republican Don Young Refers to Latinos As "Wetbacks" — the GOP Isn't Winning Any Points With Latinos


It’s yet another day with another social offense brought on by yet another old Republican white guy. In a time when the GOP is trying to connect with the Latino block, this controversy sets them another step back.

U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) dropped the term “wetbacks” to describe the workers that were employed at his father’s ranch in California during an interview with KRBD-FM.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Young said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Only after heavy criticism did Young release an apology Thursday night for his faux pas.

“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,” he said.

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

The racial slur “wetback” is associated particularly with Mexican citizens who enter the U.S. illegally. The origin stems from swimming across the Rio Grande that forms the United States – Mexican border.  It was first printed in the New York Times in 1920. In 1954, the U.S. government mission “Operation Wetback” was an operation that swept through barrios near the borderlands to deport thousands upon thousands of Mexican immigrants.

It’s difficult to swallow that a politician — a person in a position of power, politics and education — would be unaware that his usage of the term has long since lost any acceptable connotation.

Other members of the GOP were also quick to deliver backlash on young’s remarks — regardless, the damage had been already done for an occurrence that should have not seen the light of day.

The result of this isolated incident showcases a disconnect the entirety of Young’s party needs to marginalize. Media outlets have slapped their headlines with all variations of Republicans being "out of touch" (sometimes, with reality). The minority votes in the 2016 elections are valuable. In the 2012 election alone, President Barack Obama received 71% of the Latino vote, compared to Romney’s underwhelming 27%. According to CNN, Latinos make up 16% of the population, will make up 30% by 2050, represent 10% of the U.S. electorate and produce two million more voters each presidential election. Statistics such as this have bolstered GOP realizations to work harder towards on capitalizing Latino interests. Case in point, the bipartisan call for immigration reform.

The prominence of Cuba-American Marco Rubio was a promising start but does the GOP have enough momentum to keep up the effort?

There are still politicians with Young’s flawed mindset and there are still “show me your papers” profiling laws in states such as Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina that exist. It's going to take more than just Rubio and bipartisanship to cinch Latino support. There needs to be a genuine show of support towards the Latino community by Republicans as a whole. 

That calls for less slurs and more connecting.