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Have you heard the one about the “50-60 wetbacks” picking tomatoes that were replaced by a machine?  If you haven’t, your head is in the sand or in the Rio Grande.

Republican U.S. Congressman Don Young of Alaska was chatting away sharing his gnat size knowledge on immigration policy during an interview on a local radio station.  He thought it relevant to mention the good old days on his folks California farm and noted the following:


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“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.”
With all the fervor, rage and political grandstanding that have come from his comment, it is timely to ask if there is something worse than being called a wetback for Latinos.

Young (his name by the way does not reflect his appearance or his policies) apparently vomits out whatever comes to mind.  It must be comforting to former Governor Sarah Pallin to know she’s not the only political mediocrity to come out of Alaska.

He kind of reminds me of that crumped uncle that still calls African-Americans ‘’negroes” and only progressed to calling them “coloreds” after Obama ‘s re-election.  You know the kind that asks your Asian friends with MBAs about the starch on his shirts and why their people can’t get his Ming Chow Palace carryout order correct.
Being in his 21st term in Congress, and having been under federal investigation over the last 6 years for everything from earmark spending to bribery to questionable campaign contributions – Young’s expiration date is up.

I personally am never offended with an offensive comment when the people saying it, are in themselves offensive.  What can one really expect from these gaff-aholic types?
To his credit the Congressman did an immediate walk-back on the wetback comment. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays,” Young said.  See what I meant, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Poor thing must not have read the inter-office memo from his fellow Republicans that are trying to reverse their own extinction.  The memo reads something like “remember we like Latinos, illegal or not, don’t insult them or their cousins across the border at least not until we start winning elections.”

Are Latinos more offended being pandered to for their vote or being called wetback?  Do most Latinos even associate themselves with a term more associated with the undocumented?  Do Republicans even realize that most Latinos aren’t ‘wetbacks’?
What is clear is that this pandering, this sudden about face on immigration, this sudden effort for Republican outreach is MORE offensive than being called a wetback.
The term ‘wetback’ was coined in 1944 by Border Patrol to identify those immigrants whose clothes were still wet from swimming across the Rio Grande from Mexico to enter the U.S. illegally.  The term became more offensive when it became the moniker for a massive deportation initiative in the ‘50s.

In 1954 “Operation Wetback” was launched to stem the tide of undocumented entering the country from Mexico.  The operation involved going to Hispanic communities searching for those immigrants inside their homes and many times deporting them and their American born children.

So can there really be something worse than being called a wetback?  The Republicans don’t seem to think so they view this as the greatest crime against the very Hispanics they are trying to engage and just realized they needed.
Speaker John Boehner immediately condemned the comment, to his credit he does all he can for the cause by ‘browning’ his skin some might argue orange-izing it to better relate to minorities.

While Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the comment “could hurt Republicans and their relationship with the Hispanic community.
Interestingly, the only Hispanic senior Senator, Marco Rubio was too busy to comment or admonish Rep. Young.  And yes this is more offensive than Young’s ‘wetback’ comment for me personally.

His office said he was observing a religious holiday.  I didn’t realize Good Friday meant your mouth was wired shut to things other than meat.  Or maybe because the term wetback is a direct insult to Mexican immigrants versus Cuban immigrants he wasn’t motivated enough to comment.  Not sure.

Republicans are all over this and throwing one of their own under the bus for such “disrespectful” language.  So why can’t they also condemn as disrespectful and racially biased all twenty-three plus Voter ID laws they authored that will disproportionately harm Latino voters.  Or stop supporting initiatives to overturn Affirmative Action or stop barring undocumented students from accessing state-rate tuition, and the list goes on.

Just this week there were other Republicans who didn’t get the ‘be nice to Latinos’ memo and they didn’t get admonished.  There’s North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory wanting to put a ‘scarlet letter’ on drivers license for undocumented students and closing the decade’s old state office on Latino affairs.  How about Sen. John McCain insisting he will continue to use the term “illegal alien” when describing the undocumented even when he was told straight to his face Latinos find that term very offensive.

Yes! Yes, there are things worse than being called a ‘wetback’!

Get rid of those anti-Latino initiatives amongst many others and make an earnest effort on comprehensive immigration reform, that would show real respect to Latinos, which would make the ‘wetback’ label a mere sting.

Read more Estelle Walgreen at Hispanically Speaking News

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