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Trump Cabinet Member's Response to Question About Funding for Japanese Internment Education Sparks Outrage

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee March 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zinke testified on the proposed FY2019 budget for the Interior Department. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump's Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, currently under scrutiny for spending $130,000 of taxpayers' money on new doors for his office, is under fire again, but for a completely different reason.


During a House budget hearing for the Interior Department, Zinke offered a callous, racially-veiled response to a question asked Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI).

Hanabusa wanted to know why Zinke cut funding for the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant, a program that protects historic camps in which Japanese-American citizens were detained during World War II.

“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,” Hanabusa said, emphasizing the historical value of the JACS program. “So Mr. Secretary ... even with the president zeroing it out, are you committed to continue the grants program? Will we see it funded again in 2018?”

Zinke replied with "Oh, Konnichiwa," the Japenese word for "good afternoon." Considering the hearing was taking place in the morning, Zinke's response didn't go over too well. “I think it’s still ‘Ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” Hanabusa replied. Ohayo gozaimasu translates as "good morning." Following the awkward exchange, Zinke agreed to investigate the program in question.

Zinke's comments received some harsh criticism from activists and lawmakers.

“I was outraged,” said Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, which gets its funding through Jacs, “first by Secretary Zinke’s disrespect to Rep. Hanabusa and second to his ignorance to teaching the lessons of American history.”

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) sent Zinke a tweet in which she called his comments "flippant and juvenile."

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) responded on Twitter as well. "Nope, racism is not okay," she wrote.

Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) said Zinke's choice of words was "blatantly insensitive" and demonstrate "behavior that a cabinet secretary should not exhibit."

Twitter wasn't going to let Zinke's comments go unchecked, either.

"The patronizing racism and privilege" made Jeff Yang "tremble with rage."

Several women who attended the hearing, some of whom are descendants of Japanese-American citizens that were forced into internment camps, were plainly shocked by the secretary's comments.

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) torched Zinke's insensitive choice of words in a statement to Talking Points Memo.

“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,” JACL said to TPM on Friday. “If anything, Secretary Zinke’s comment clarifies and reinforces the need for full funding of the JACS program. … We urge Congress to continue funding of the JACS program at the same level as years past.”