Rep. Don Young of Alaska said Thursday that he “meant no disrespect” when he used the term “wetbacks” to refer to the migrant laborers who used to work on his father’s California ranch.
The Republican congressman dropped the racial slur during an interview with the Alaska radio station KRBD when talking about the changing market for U.S. labor jobs.
“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” he said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”
The term “wetback” was originally used to refer to Mexicans who entered the U.S. by swimming or wading across the Rio Grande.
After an uproar about his use of the derogatory term, Young issued a statement that walked back the remark without exactly apologizing.
“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, according to Alaska’s KTUU-TV. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.