Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was slammed on Thursday for his tone deaf response to a congresswoman who shared her grandfather’s grim experience in a U.S. internment camp during World War II.
Hawaii’s Rep. Colleen Hanabusa shared her family history and asked Zinke about the elimination of grant programs to preserve the history of Japanese-American internment when he responded with a cheerful, “Oh, Konnichiwa!”
Zinke’s response — a Japanese greeting typically used in the afternoon — left at least one woman at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing slack-jawed, while others called it “flippant” and “offensive” on social media.
Hanabusa confronted Zinke about the elimination of the $2 million Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program in Trump’s 2019 budget proposal on Thursday.
RELATED: A look back at Japanese internment camps
The representative also shared that her grandfather — a U.S. citizen who was born in Hawaii — didn’t open up about the painful experience of being imprisoned until much later on in life.
“I believe that it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so that we don’t have to repeat them again,” Hanabusa said.
Despite the grave subject matter, Hanabusa’s personal family history, and her obvious ability to speak English, Zinke looked up, smiled cheerfully, and addressed her in Japanese.
Hanabusa maintained her composure when she shot back with, “I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ [GOOD MORNING], but that’s ok.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Calif.) later tweeted, “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.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) also criticized Zinke’s comment, tweeting, “No better example of why we need continued support for historical sites where the rights of Japanese Americans were violated b/c of race.”
“Zinke’s comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner. Intentional or not, it's offensive. He should apologize,” she added.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois weighed in, writing, “Nope. Racism is not ok.”
RELATED: US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke