Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) on Thursday called it “flippant & juvenile” for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to respond to a question about preserving internment sites with a Japanese greeting.
“The internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter, @SecretaryZinke,” tweeted Hirono, the first U.S. senator born in Japan and the first Asian-American woman elected to the chamber.
During a House Natural Resources Committee earlier in the day, Zinke was pressed by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), a fourth-generation Japanese-American, to commit to refunding a National Park Service program that offers grants toward the preservation of confinement camps were Japanese-Americans were held during World War II.
“Are you committed to continue to 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, deploying a Japanese greeting typically used in midday.
After a brief silence, Hanabusa corrected Zinke, using the Japanese greeting for “good morning.”
“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that's OK,” she said.
Zinke’s remark later drew scrutiny from the Hawaii senator online.
“What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabusa was flippant & juvenile,” Hirono wrote on Twitter.
After the short exchange at the hearing, Zinke said that funding for the grants “probably got caught up” by larger 2018 budgetary items, and vowed to work with Hanabusa on the matter.
“I will look at it and I will work with you on it because I think it is important,” Zinke told her.
Hanabusa, who said her two grandparents were subjected to internment, framed the program as a necessity during the hearing.
“I sit before you the granddaughter of two internees, both of my grandfathers were interned during World War II,” Hanabusa said. “It is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so that we don’t have them repeat again.”