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Don Young

(Credit: U.S. House)

Alaska Congressman Don Young is attempting to quench a political fire for using a racial slur by saying it was a part of his childhood culture.

The Republican representative said his father hired “40 to 50 wetbacks” to harvest tomatoes on his family’s ranch. That comment appeared in an interview aired Thursday by a local radio station.

The congressman has since drawn the ire of Latinos, Democrats and even fellow members of the GOP, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, a South Texas Democrat and chairman of the CHC, said in a statement:

“It is deeply disheartening that in 2013 we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs.”

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an interview that migrant workers come to the U.S. for a better opportunity, not to hear ethnic slurs, the Washington Post reports. The comment follows efforts by the Republican Party to draw Latino voters ahead of the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections.

“The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity,” Cornyn said.

Young apologized in a statement issued late Thursday evening.

“I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect,” he said.

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