HONOLULU — Funding for a program to preserve the sites where Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II moved forward on Thursday after becoming the backdrop of a spat between a Hawaii congresswoman and the Interior Department boss.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke discussed the funding last week at a House committee hearing in Washington.
When the Japanese-American congresswoman asked Zinke whether he would continue the program, Zinke replied with the Japanese greeting for hello, or “konnichiwa.”
Hanabusa’s colleagues later criticized Zinke for being juvenile and treating her as a foreigner. Hanabusa said Zinke was racially stereotyping her — the same reason the U.S. government put Japanese-Americans into camps 75 years ago.
Zinke defended his use of the term, saying, “How could ever saying ‘good morning’ be bad?”
The House approved $3 million for the project. It now goes to the Senate.
Hanabusa’s two grandfathers were detained at camps in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Honouliuli, Hawaii.
She said in a statement Thursday that the program helps ensure the country never forgets that more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were arrested and imprisoned for their ancestry and not because they broke U.S. law.
She said the bigger issue than Zinke’s Japanese language greeting was that the Trump administration planned to defund the program.
“Thankfully, my colleagues did not,” she said.