In an interview with KRBD radio Thursday, Representative Don Young ( R-Alaska) used the racist smear "wetback" in describing migrant workers his father employed in their California ranch.

Young used the derogatory term  when explaining how automation has taken away jobs.

“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.”

Certainly Representative Young's insensitive slur this week does not help the GOP's effort to reach out to the Latino community.

- Hugo Balta, President of NAHJ

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) is disappointed by Representative Young's insensitive remark. NAHJ calls for his immediate apology.

In a statement Young did not apologize, but rather tried to excuse himself by explaining that it came from his time growing up in a different era. He 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."

No, Mr. Young, such tactless expressions always had the same "use" and that's to demean a group of hard working people who are often the target of abuse.

In 1954 (when young was 20 years old), then president Dwight Eisenhower launched Operation Wetback, a shameful initiative to remove (often violently) thousands of undocumented workers - mostly Mexican nationals. In what has been described as a "quasi-military operation", border patrol agents, along with state and local law enforcement methodically targeted Mexican-Americans.

The result was widespread fear and abuse.

It is estimated that 4,800 people were apprehended on the first day of the military operation.  In the end, The Immigration and Naturalization Service agency (INS) claimed as many as 1,300,000 were deported - many on their own out of fear. There were reports of beatings. Hundreds of families were torn apart. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Following the overwhelming loss in November, The Republican National Committee (RNC) called on the party to present a friendlier face to diverse voters from different racial and ethnic groups. The five-member Growth and Opportunity Project of the RNC stated in its report, “It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our advice.”

Certainly Representative Young's insensitive slur this week does not help the GOP's effort to reach out to the Latino community.

It is my personal hope that Mr. Young understands how that term fuels racist and discriminatory actions by ignorant people, who feel it (wetback) is acceptable to use because a person in power (a politician) like him uses it.

I invite Representative Young to a conversation in an effort to educate others about how inappropriate and inaccurate this negative term is.

Hugo Balta is the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. 

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