WASHINGTON — The National JACL said it was dismayed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s patronizing attitude when he greeted Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), a fourth-generation American, with the Japanese phrase for “good afternoon,” stating that his “flippant remark was inappropriate and lacked the respect he afforded other representatives during the same hearing.”
The incident occurred March 15 at a discussion on the continuation of funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program. After Hanabusa asked Zinke if the Interior Dept. would be continuing the program, he began his remarks by saying “konnichiwa” to Hanabusa.
CNN reported that Hanabusa retorted, “I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu’ (good morning), but that’s OK.”
The National JACL responded to Zinke’s greeting with the following statement: “The injustice of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans was due to the very racist sentiments unintentionally exhibited in Secretary Zinke’s flippant comment, that Japanese Americans were and are perpetually foreign.
“Although not as brazen as Gen. DeWitt’s statement in 1942 that ‘A Jap’s a Jap. It makes no difference whether the Jap is a citizen or not,’ the sentiment is not so dissimilar. If anything, Secretary Zinke’s comment clarifies and reinforces the need for full funding of the JACS program.”
The Associated Press reported that in a statement from Hanabusa released following the incident, she said, “When Secretary Zinke chose to address me in Japanese (when no one else was greeted in their ancestral language), I understood ‘this is precisely why Japanese Americans were treated as they were more than 75 years ago.’ It is racial stereotyping.
“How ironic that the most-decorated unit in military history, the 100th battalion, 442 Regimental Combat Team, fought for a country that considered them enemy aliens. We must never forget our voices or the fact that we must fight so all can remember the injustice. Remember so it is never repeated. I call upon you to join in the fight to ensure this country never forgets that it imprisoned its people because of their ancestry, not because they committed a crime.”
On Saturday, Zinke responded to queries about the incident by saying, “How could ever saying ‘Good morning’ be bad?” As for the funding for JACS, Zinke said he would investigate the issue and that the elimination of funding was probably “an oversight.”
The JACL further stated that it was “grateful to the over 54 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives that have signed on to a letter of support for continued funding of the JACS program” and that it is urging “Congress to continue funding of the JACS program at the same level as years past.”
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