GOP Congressman Don Young Says ‘Wetbacks’ Picked Dad’s Tomatoes

A GOP congressman is walking back a stunningly offensive remark made Thursday, using the term “wetbacks” to describe Latino farm laborers during a radio interview.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) engaged in the sort of old, casual racism that is characterized by the user not even really being aware of the level of offense their remarks may cause, saying during the interview:

“My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks and — to pick tomatoes … You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Later Thursday, Rep. Young released a statement about his use of the slur and explained that while he realized the term had fallen out of favor, it was more widely in use when he was growing up. The GOP congressman said:

“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.”

Young went on to say that migrant workers in the US “play an important role in America’s workforce,” adding

” … 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.”

Rep. Young’s remarks come as the GOP is struggling with minority voters, and the “wetbacks” comment may be seen as detrimental to their post-election strategy of luring Latino voters in particular.