1. Nation & World

'Oh, konnichiwa,' Ryan Zinke tells Japanese American lawmaker discussing internment of her grandfathers

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Zinke is drawing criticism for his use of a Japanese greeting when responding to a question from a congresswoman of Japanese descent during a hearing on Thursday, March 15, 2018. [Photo by Win McNamee | Getty Images]
Published Mar. 16, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday used a Japanese greeting in response to a congresswoman's question about preserving the history of Japanese American internment during World War II, drawing rebukes from lawmakers who said his remark was offensive.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, a fourth-generation American of Japanese ancestry, asked Zinke in a hearing whether he would continue a National Park Service grant program that funds research and preserves confinement sites where the government incarcerated as many as 120,000 people of Japanese descent. She said both of her grandfathers were internees.

"Are you committed to continue the grant programs that are identified, I believe, as the Japanese American Confinement Sites grants program, which were funded in 2017? Will we see them funded again in 2018?" Hanabusa asked.

"Oh, konnichiwa," Zinke replied, using a Japanese greeting typically spoken in the afternoon.

After an awkward pause, Hanabusa corrected him.

"I think it's still 'ohayo gozaimasu,' but that's okay," she said, using the phrase for "good morning." Then she moved on.

Several of Hanabusa's colleagues voiced outrage about the exchange after it circulated social media later in the day, saying Zinke had shown a profound insensitivity toward Asian Americans.

"Rather than greet her like he would any other Member of Congress, he responded to her as if she did not speak any English," Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said in astatement. "Whether intentional or not, his comments invoke the offensive stereotype that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners regardless of how long their families have lived in the United States."

My colleague asked Sec. Zinke a serious question about gov't funding and received the response "Konnichiwa". This blatantly insensitive remark by @secretaryzinke is uncalled for and is not behavior that a cabinet secretary should exhibit???

"My colleague asked Sec. Zinke about gov't funding and received the response "Konnichiwa,'" Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter. "This blatantly insensitive remark by secretary zinke is uncalled for and is not behavior that a cabinet secretary should exhibit."

Others said it was especially inappropriate coming during a conversation about Japanese internment, under which the government forced innocent citizens into overcrowded and often unsanitary camps, separating families and seizing private property in the process.

"The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter," Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who was born in Japan, wrote on Twitter. "What you thought was a clever response to RepHanabusa was flippant and juvenile."

An Interior Department spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Friday morning.

Hanabusa said in Thursday's hearing that one of her grandfathers was born in Hawaii when it was still a territory and was held in an internment camp in there during the Second World War. She didn't find out about his incarceration until he was in his 80s, she said, because Japanese Americans "just did not speak about it."

"And that's been the problem that many face," she told Zinke.

President Donald Trump's proposed 2019 budget doesn't seek funding - about $2 million in previous years - for the Japanese American Confinement Sites program, the goal of which is to study and preserve internment camps for the benefit of future generations.

Grants issued through the program have "kept this history alive," Hanabusa said. "I believe that it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so that we don't have them repeat again."

Zinke said funding for the program "probably got caught up" as the Interior Department was considering other budget items such as national park operations.

"I think it was an oversight in the budget," he said. "I understand the importance of it to American history."


  1. People are lead out of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Santa Clarita, Calif.  The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department says on Twitter that deputies are responding to the high school about 30 miles  northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The sheriff’s office says a male suspect in black clothing was seen at the school. AP
    At least seven people were injured — one critically — in a shooting at Saugus High School when a gunman opened fire on the Santa Clarita campus early Thursday, authorities said.
  2. FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2017 file photo, Kodak Black arrives at the MTV Video Music Awards in Inglewood, Calif. The rapper has been sentenced to more than three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to weapons charges stemming from his arrest just before a scheduled concert performance in May. The 22-year-old admitted in August that he falsified information on federal forms to buy four firearms from a Miami-area gun shop on two separate occasions. JORDAN STRAUSS  |  Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
    The sentence was far less than the maximum 10-year sentence he could have received.
  3. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Kent was one of the most high-ranking career officials who had knowledge about elements of the alleged White House effort.
  4. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, center in bowtie, arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) JULIO CORTEZ  |  AP
    Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent are scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.
  5. In this Amber Alert made available by the Jacksonville, Fla., Police, shows an undated photo of Taylor Williams. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, authorities in Alabama say they have found human remains while searching in the woods for Williams. The child was reported missing from her Jacksonville, Fla., home last Wednesday. (Jacksonville Police via AP) AP
    Taylor Rose Williams’ mother, who said her daughter disappeared from home overnight, was charged with child neglect and giving false information to investigators, according to investigators.
  6. DACA recipients including Greisa Martinez Rosa, right of center in red dress, and others leave the Supreme Court with their hands in the air after oral arguments were heard in the case of President Trump's decision to end the Obama-era, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, at the Supreme Court in Washington. ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    The program currently protects 660,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are here illegally.
  7. Alex Trebeka speaks at the 44th annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center on Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Pasadena, Calif. On Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, Trebek announced that he's on a leave of absence from "Jeopardy" after undergoing brain surgery for blood clots - medically known as subdural hematoma - that were "caused by a fall I endured two months ago." [Photo by Chris Pizzello | Invision | AP]
    Tournament of Champions contestant Dhruv Gaur decided to sacrifice his Final Jeopardy answer to send the host a loving message: #weloveyouAlex.
  8. The three Taliban figures were under the custody of the Afghan government, Ghani said, and were held at the Bagram prison, an air base that also houses U.S. troops just outside Kabul.
  9. Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early Tuesday in a resumption of pinpointed targeting that threatens a fierce round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa) HATEM MOUSSA  |  AP
    The Israeli strike killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife, setting off a furious barrage of Gaza-fired rockets that reached as far as the Tel Aviv
  10. Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue protesting President Donald Trump, in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. JOSE LUIS MAGANA                         |  AP
    House committees will determine whether President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s family and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.