Following public outcry after U.S. Representative Don Young (R-AK) used a racial slur to describe immigrant farm workers during a radio interview this week, Young issued two half-hearted apologies. Some organizations are calling for his resignation, and others are calling for a real apology and commitment to immigration reform.
In an interview on a local Alaska radio station on March 28, the U.S. State Representative said: "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50–60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."
In response to community outcry and criticism from fellow Republicans, Young issued a half-hearted apology: "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." On March 29, issued yet another half-hearted apology.
GLAAD joins organizations including Presente.org, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) in calling for Young to take full responsibility as a member of Congress to apologize and undo the damage he has caused.
"Dehumanizing slurs like this, which offend so many, have no place in interviews with elected officials. They send a message to anyone listenening that these terms are acceptable when in fact they are incredibly hurtful to Latinos like me and to anyone who has felt the power of slurs," said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz. "Young was right to apologize and now should sit down with Latino leaders and learn about the power of hateful speech and about Latino and American values today."
NCLR, LULAC and NHMC issued the following statements:
It is very sad and extremely disappointing that on the eve of Cesar Chavez’s birthday—a man who spent his entire life exhorting his fellow Americans to treat migrant workers with dignity, respect, and humanity—we learn that an elected member of Congress continues to use such an antiquated and demeaning term. Let us be clear: that word was inexcusable then, and it is inexcusable now. Congressman Young owes our community a full and sincere apologys
-Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR.
We are disappointed and offended over Representative Young’s use of such a degrading and inflammatory word. This hateful language should not have been acceptable in his grandfather's time and is certainly not acceptable today
- Margaret Moran, LULAC National President.
It is a sad day in our country when we have our nation's leadership using dehumanizing language to refer to Latinos. Although Rep. Young explained why he used the word "wetback" to describe the Latino farm workers that labored on his family's ranch, it does not make his remark any less toxic and still warrants an apology. Slurs like 'wetback,' 'illegal,' and 'illegal alien' have, shamefully, become all too common in our national discourse. There was no place for this type of language twenty years ago and there is no place for it now
-Alex Nogales, President & CEO of NHMC
In addition, NCLR has also started an online petition calling for Young to issue a "real apology." Presente.org launched an online petition calling for Young's resignation.
Regardless of intent, words matter and elected officials need to do better by their constituents. GLAAD stands with LULAC, NHMC and NCLR in calling for U.S. State Representative Young to issue a real apology.