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EtymologyEdit

First used in the 1920s from the presumed effects of swimming or wading across the Rio Grande. Used by the U.S. Government in 1954 with Operation Wetback.

PronunciationEdit

NounEdit

wetback (plural wetbacks)

  1. (derogatory slang) A Mexican or Central American who illegally enters the United States of America from its southern border.
    • 1920, Temporary admission of illiterate Mexican laborers: Hearings before the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, House of Representatives, 66th Congress, 2nd Session, p. 141,[1]
      Mr. HUDSPETH. [] I stood here and did all in my power to keep the “wetback [] from coming across. And I stand here to-day asking for that.
      The CHAIRMAN. [] What is a a “wetback”?
      Mr. HUDSPETH. You have heard a “wetback” described; he is a fellow that crosses the river surreptitiously.
    • 1950, “United Nations: Objectivity,” Time, 27 March, 1950,[2]
      The charges against the U.S. had cited cases of peonage and labor under forced contracts in Maine, Connecticut, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia and California. They had revealed that thousands of “wetbacks” (i.e., Mexican laborers who wade the Rio Grande in search of work in the U.S.) lived in squalor and poverty, sometimes were paid as little as $8 a week.
    • 1997, Saul Bellow, The Actual, New York: Viking, p. 12,[3]
      He went through a couple of bottles of wine and made a speech denouncing wetbacks and Asian immigrants.
    • 2015, John Irving, Avenue of Mysteries, Knopf Canada, Chapter 2,
      A successful wetback, the limo driver was thinking—that was his assessment of his Mexican-American passenger.
  2. (derogatory slang) A person of the mestizo race; a mojado.

TranslationsEdit

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