Advertisement
  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???https://t.co/4dz9gSgKdR pic.twitter.com/MwPCT0CJdO

"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."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Workers refuel the tank at a gas station in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump declared Monday that it "looks" like Iran was behind the explosive attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. He stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key U.S. Mideast ally. AMR NABIL  |  AP
    Even before Tuesday’s reversal in prices, economists downplayed the prospect that the price spike could send the economy reeling.
  2. Snowden published his book, “Permanent Record,” without submitting it for a pre-publication review, in violation of non-disclosure agreements he signed with both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency, the Justice Department alleges. Image by Archive
    Snowden published his book, “Permanent Record,” without submitting it for a pre-publication review.
  3. In this April 19, 2017, file photo, Cokie Roberts speaks during the opening ceremony for Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Roberts, a longtime political reporter and analyst at ABC News and NPR has died, ABC announced Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.  She was 75. MATT ROURKE  |  AP
    She died Tuesday in Washington of complications from breast cancer.
  4. Energy-efficient LED light bulbs. (Times | 2008) St. Petersburg Times
    Trump’s administration recently scrapped a rule that would have phased out incandescent light bulbs.
  5. FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2018 file photo, a marcher carries a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag #MeToo used by people speaking out against sexual harassment as she takes part in a Women's March in Seattle.  According to a study published Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, the first sexual experience for many U.S. women was forced or coerced intercourse in their early teens, encounters that for some may have had lasting health repercussions. TED S. WARREN  |  AP
    Almost 7 percent of women surveyed said their first sexual intercourse experience was involuntary; it happened at age 15 on average and the man was often several years older.
  6. This undated photo provided by the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office in McAlester, Okla. shows Alexis Wilson. Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris said Wilson was arrested Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, after investigators saw a video of her shooting an AK-47 and her co-workers reported she had said she would "shoot up" the school. AP
    Alexis Wilson was arrested Monday after a co-worker told investigators that Wilson had said she wanted to shoot 400 people at McAlester High School.
  7. President Donald Trump speaks at the 2019 House Republican Conference Member Retreat Dinner in Baltimore on Sept. 12. JOSE LUIS MAGANA  |  AP
    The country is moving in that direction, though.
  8. People stand in line outside the Santa Ana Star Center arena awaiting the start of President Donald Trump's rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. Officials with Trump's campaign said they are working to win the support of more voters in the traditionally Democratic state ahead of the 2020 election. RUSSELL CONTRERAS  |  AP
    Vowing to win the New Mexico vote next year, Trump heralded surging oil production in New Mexico and decreasing unemployment nationwide among Hispanics.
  9. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh sits with fellow Supreme Court justices for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    The news organization’s handling of a new sexual misconduct allegation against the Supreme Court attracted almost as much attention as the accusation itself.
  10. Gas prices could surge over the coming days because of a sharp drop in Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Pictured is a man filling up his car. | [Times file photo]
    A weekend drone strike on an oil processing facility caused the kingdom to cut production in half.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement