During an exchange with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) on Tuesday regarding funding for a program that preserves the history of Japanese internment camps during World War II, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke replied to one of Hanabusa's questions in Japanese.
The program in question is the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant, for which President Donald Trump has proposed spending cuts.
“I did not find out about the fact that my grandfather was interned on Oahu for a lot of the wartime until he was eightysomething years old because they didn’t speak about it,” she said, noting that these grants are used to spread awareness and education about this history.
“So Mr. Secretary ... even with the president zeroing it out, are you committed to continue the grants program?” she asked. “Will we see it funded again in 2018?”
He replied with a Japanese greeting, saying “Konnichiwa,” meaning “good afternoon.”
Hanabusa then corrected the Secretary, due to the fact that it was not quite afternoon:
“I think it’s still ‘Ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” Hanabusa replied, referring to the Japanese phrase for “good morning.” Zinke then agreed to look into the budget in question.
Some were upset that Zinke opted for such a tacky response:
Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono criticized Zinke’s comments on Twitter. “The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke. What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabusa was flippant & juvenile,” she tweeted.
She wasn’t alone. “I was outraged,” said Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, which has been funded by the grant program in question, “first by Secretary Zinke’s disrespect to Rep. Hanabusa and second to his ignorance to teaching the lessons of American history.”