Disparaging word, racial epithet and/or slur used to insult Hispanic immigrants. In almost all cases of use it is considered extremely offensive for its negative connotations of poverty, migration and social status.

The "official" source of the word seems to be the controversial Operation Wetback - courtesy of the INS - in 1954 along the Rio Grande at the end of "the decade of the wetback" from 1944 to 1954 in which illegal immigration increased 6,000%

It is more than likely that the term "wetback" originally derives from the way immigrants usually had to swim and ford the Rio Grande before continuing their pilgrimage across the harsh deserts in wet clothes.

Alternatively or additionally - and according to my local-lore filled step-grandfather - "wetback" also derives from the practice of soaking one's shirt and either wearing it normally or draping it over one's head and shoulders like a cowl to stay cooler in the brutal and unforgiving heat of the deserts and badlands that dominate the US-Mexico border. (See also: tire sandals or tie tread shoes or something similar.)


Sources:

Kim Pearson - http://kpearson.faculty.tcnj.edu/Dictionary/wetback.htm - which cites the book Operation Wetback, (1997).

Grandpop, on a trip to the Anza Borrego and Salton Sea areas as he attempted to explain a vintage "humorous" cartoon postcard my brother and I had seen in one of those typical roadside cafes stuffed and plastered with memories, antiques, artifacts and character thick enough to give you food poisoning. Grandpop knew agriculture, taught it, ran a "living farm" museum, and when younger, worked it. I remember distinctly how upset he was and that in his eyes I could see the respect for these impossibly hard-working and large-hearted people even through the rage that he'd have to explain this to little kids. I remember looking out from the shade of the trees in that small oasis in asolute awe and wonder at the boiling furnace of a landscape, barely able to fathom how someone could walk from who knows how far south of the border to hundreds of miles north to where the work was.

A slang term describing an illegal alien residing in the Unites States who entered the U.S. from Mexico.

Wetback is certainly a disparaging word but it is by no means a racial epithet. A Mexican citizen visiting the U.S. for vacation is not considered a wetback, nor is the immigrant who filled out the paperwork and did everything right in order to immigrate legally to the U.S. from Mexico or Central/South America. The wetback is the one that decided to circumvent the laws of the U.S. and immigrate without permission. Often times, they enter Guatemala (illegally) from the south in order to (illegally) pass through Mexico to the U.S. In other contexts, this is called trespassing. It can also be compared to cutting in line; the immigration line.

America was founded by immigrants and initially built by immigrants. Without immigration America would not be able to maintain its standard of excellence. Midway through the last century America began to control immigration due to the fact that the country was essentially populated. No longer did we open the door to every immigrant. We became selective. We looked at the applicant's skills, education, and criminal background. We began to manage immigration in a way to serve America's best interests.

We did have political asylum programs and relaxed standards for people coming from certain countries like Vietnam, Cuba, or the U.S.S.R., but in general we began to manage immigration for the good of the U.S. After all it is our country. Each country of origin was allowed a certain number of immigrants each year. After they were chosen, the other applicants went on the waiting list.

Given the nature of the common border shared by the U.S. and Mexico, it became immediately obvious that anyone wanting to enter the U.S. from Mexico could do so with little resistance. So here came the INS and the border was patrolled, and still is. Not patrolled effectively, but it is legally a closed border requiring clearance to pass into the U.S. (and presumably into Mexico but no one is concerned about the flow into Mexico).

I have to say that I am respectfully very much at odds with the previous definition of this term. The previous writeup said that the wetbacks "had to swim and ford the Rio Grande before continuing their pilgrimage across the harsh deserts in wet clothes." I say that they chose to swim and ford and walk through the desert, in direct defiance of the laws of the U.S. And by the way if I was walking through the desert I would prefer to do it in wet clothes.

The writeup above says that the term is used to insult Hispanic immigrants. Poppycock. It is used to insult illegal immigrants coming in through Mexico. Specifically, it says that the term is "extremely offensive for its negative connotations of poverty, migration and social status." I say that the term is offensive for a purpose. It has nothing to do with poverty, migration, or social status. If I chose to use those criteria for denigrating people, then half of my family in Louisiana would fall into the same category. Most of us were born poor and of low social status, and a good many migrated.

I've known many wetbacks. They typically work very hard. Ken Lay also worked very hard, but in the end he broke the law. What wetbacks do not understand or refuse to accept is that they do not have an intrinsic right to reside in the United States of America. They did not contribute to the building of this society, and they can rightfully enter this society only when given permission by the United States government.

Are wetbacks bad people? Mostly not. I understand why they have chosen to break our laws. The fact remains that they have chosen to break our laws, not their laws, but our laws. We didn't take our laws to them.

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