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No excuses for using the term 'wetback'

April 06, 2013
  • Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has apologized for using the word "wetbacks" in an interview last week.
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has apologized for using the word "wetbacks"… (Dan Joling / Associated…)

After Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) used "wetbacks" in an interview last week to describe the migrant workers who were once employed on his family's farm in California — and quickly apologized for uttering the slur —- The Times published an article Wednesday rehashing the history of the term and weighing the varying degrees of offense it causes. Although the slur is widely regarded as verboten, according to the story, some aren't offended when other Latinos use the Spanish word for "wetback." Orange County Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano was quoted as saying, "When you want to insult Mexicans, calling them a 'wetback' is so 1950s."

That ambivalence wasn't reflected in the 11 letters to the editor we received on the topic. The readers' near-unanimous verdict: 'Wetback' is offensive, period. Ten said as much very pointedly; one reader blamed the controversy on media bias, though he didn't defend Young.

Here is a selection of those letters.

— Paul Thornton, letters editor

Karina Marroquin of Franklin Park, Ill., didn't take Young's apology seriously:

"The word 'wetback' is a racist term that no politician should be using. Young's apology is ineffective since he has already showed his disrespect for Latinos by using the word at all. He doesn't have the Latinos' interest at heart.

"Young has dealt a GOP trying to woo voters outside its white base a setback. That he is one of the House's longest-serving Republicans allows him no excuses for using a word like this. Just think: If he said this in an interview for many to hear, one can only imagine the language he uses when not in the public's eye.

"I am a Latina, and I do not accept Young's his apology."

Huntington Park resident Victor Ventura was similarly dismissive:

"As a Mexican-American myself, coming from a very patriotic family, I felt very offended by this slur that the Alaska Republican used in an interview. Growing up in Los Angeles, a culturally diverse city with many Hispanic leaders, and coming from a family of immigrants from Mexico, I have shifted, one can say, to more of a Hispanic viewpoint than that of an American. Does that give Young or anyone the right to call me a 'wetback'?

"Some might say, 'Well, he's 79 years old, so he doesn't have the same moral mentality as others.' But if his thinking is so medieval, why is he still in Congress? Who knows how this kind of mind-set can hurt Congress?"

"Young said what he said and meant what he meant, and there's no taking it back. He offended the Hispanic community and hurt the Republican Party's reputation."

Roger Clarke of Santa Ana said the controversy is mostly about the "R" next to Young's name:

"Much ado about nothing. Just the media jumping on some stupid remark by some old congressman and trying to make it out like there's something wrong with Republicans. Rep. Maxine Waters makes many outrageous statements that are never chalked up to her being a Democrat.

"And, of course, your March 30 headline noted it was a 'Republican' who uttered the slur instead of using the goofball's name"


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