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Ryan Zinke Greets Rep. Hanabusa’s Question About Funds for Japanese Internment Education With “Oh, Konnichiwa”

ryan zinke saying konnichiwa

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke had a budget hearing yesterday, and he’s making headlines an interaction with Representative Colleen Hanabusa that was exceptionally awkward, and profoundly offensive.

For her time, Rep. Hanabusa said she wanted to speak about “small projects…but ones that are very significant and important, especially to Hawaii.” Specifically, she wanted to hear how Zinke would advocate for grants that fund education around Japanese Internment, especially in the event that the President zeroes out those grants. Hanabusa shared her own story as the granddaughter of two internees in a moving talk about the importance of telling their stories and other Japanese-American stories from that time.

Here’s the transcript of that speech:

Both of my grandfathers were interned during World War II. One in Santa Fe, New Mexico and one in a place called Honouliuli in Hawaii, which people did not know about. I didn’t find out about the fact that my grandfather was interned on Oahu for a lot of the wartime until he was 80-something years old—because they didn’t speak about it. And that’s been the problem that many face, that Japanese-Americans who served in World War II—as you know, probably the most decorated unit to date in the history of the military and the 100th and 442nd—as well as those who were interned did not speak about it.

My grandfather was born in Hawaii and is a citizen by birth, but we were a territory then. And he did not speak about it then. The President’s budget zeroes out what is, I think, a really nominal amount compared to your whole budget. It’s about 2 million dollars. But what it does do, is it eliminates the grant program that have at least kept various institutions throughout the United States trying to keep this history alive.

Because I believe it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments, so we don’t have them repeated again. So, Mr. Secretary, I’d like to know: even with the President zero-ing it out, are you committed to continuing the grant programs that are identified, I believe, as the Japanese-American Confinement Sites grant program—which were funded in 2017. Will we see them funded again in 2018?”

So what was Zinke’s reaction to Hanabusa’s question about these programs that were clearly not only very important to her personally, but for an entire community that suffered that injustice? A really proud “Oh, Konnichiwa”. You could see the heads in the back shoot up in surprise and discomfort.

Girl, same.

“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ (good morning) but that‘s okay,” Hanabusa replied, to which Zinke continued and then the promised that he would look at it and work with her.

The interaction, many pointed out, was completely inappropriate in the discussion of Japanese internment, as well as wildly offensive. The phenomenon of the white men greeting Asian-American women with “ni hao” or “konnichiwa” in an attempt to idk, show off (?) is one of the most cliched racist interactions that it was jarring to see it happen at the committee.

This kind of microaggression isn’t only unimpressive, it’s insulting, as if to presume the woman doesn’t understand English. What he may perceive as accommodating or interesting is actually a rude reminder of her difference. As Rep. Judy Chu of California pointed out in her demand for an apology:

“Rather than greet her like he would any other Member of Congress, he responded to her as if she did not speak any English…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.”

Now, Zinke doesn’t get as much attention as some of Trump’s other associates or cabinet members, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done his fair share.  He’s the one responsible for introducing a proposal to increase entrance fees at American national parks, trying to shrink the Bear Ears National Monument,  threatening Alaska, and announcing a plan to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in almost all of the nation’s coastlines. Considering the administration’s general disregard for science and environmental protection, the majority of the National Parks System Advisory Board (which advises government through the secretary of the interior) had a mass resignation earlier this year, stating they were “deeply disappointed with the department”. Head of the advisory board Tony Knowles added Zinke “appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursing the protection of the ecosystem.”

The portion of the House Natural Resources Committee where Ryan Zinke responds to Hanabusa is here, where you can also see him interrupt and condescend to Congresswoman Norma Torres about offshore drilling before getting called out by the committee staff for not making sense. To skip to his interaction with Hanabusa, go to 12:17:

(via Washington Post, image: screencap)

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