Following widespread criticism, including from Republican leadership, Alaska’s Rep. Don Young has apologized for his use of a derogatory term earlier this week during a news conference in Ketchikan.
It’s not common for Young to apologize for anything he’s said, but it happened Friday morning.
Young is the focus of national headlines, blogs and a flurry of official statements, all criticizing the 79-year-old Republican.
Young used a derogatory term for Mexican field workers during a news conference Wednesday in Ketchikan. The original story aired Thursday, and quickly went viral.
Young’s office issued a statement Thursday evening that fell short of an apology. It didn’t satisfy Republican leaders, who are trying to boost their image among immigrants. Friday morning, House Speaker John Boehner condemned Young’s use of the word, and called for a true apology.
Later Friday, Young issued another statement apologizing for the “insensitive term.” He said there was no malice in his heart, and no intent to offend.
Lupe Marroquin of the Hispanic Affairs Council of Alaska said she was disappointed that Young would use such a word, apparently without understanding that it’s derogatory. She said his explanation that it was a word used in his childhood was a poor excuse.
“We’ve all grown up with things we’ve heard. And when we know that they’re wrong, we grow up and we learn not to do that,” she said. “It surprises me that after all these years – Mr. Young is a very smart man – that he wouldn’t discard that word from his vocabulary and use respectful words.”
Marroquin said her reaction upon hearing that term from Alaska’s elected representative was offense.
“I was totally offended that he just used that word,” she said. “And the surprising thing was that he used it without – the inflection in his voice doesn’t change — it was just part of his vocabulary. That’s just what he calls (migrant farm workers).”
Marroquin notes that migrant farm workers are part of Mexican American culture, and that they are strong, hard-working people, “but the term ‘wetback’ was never meant as a term of endearment.’
In his Friday apology, Young says “that word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I’m sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform.”
During his Ketchikan visit, Young did address immigration reform in response to a question from the audience at a town-hall-style meeting. He did indicate that a change is needed in the system.
“Anybody who is here illegally, is here illegally,” he said. “They’re not going to get in front of the line; they should go behind the line. It is very difficult to get into this country. I’ve talked to some illegal people and they said it takes me 14 years to get into the United States legally. I can get here in 12 hours illegally. Why should I wait 14 years?”
Young says the U.S. should expedite the process for legal immigration.