Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday defended his “konnichiwa” remark to a Japanese-American congresswoman by arguing that he “has friends that were Japanese families” who lived through Japanese internment camps during World War II.
In an interview with Breitbart Radio on Monday, Zinke said that greeting Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing with “Konnichiwa,” a Japanese midday greeting, was “an appropriate salute.”
“I grew up in a little logging, timber town, railroad town in Montana and a lot of my family lived through the years of the internment camps, I’ve long since had friends that were Japanese families that went through that,” he told Breitbart Radio, flagged to TPM by liberal research group American Bridge. “I’ve been to the Japanese War College at Etawah Jima and saying ‘Konnichiwa’ past ten o’clock as a greeting I don’t think it’s any different than greeting anybody else in a language that’s respectful. I grew up in Montana saying ‘good morning,’ saying ‘good afternoon,’ I think its an appropriate salute.”
When Zinke made the comment in March, Hanabusa corrected him in stride, saying she thought it was still ‘Ohayo gozaimasu,’ which means “good morning.”
Several Democratic senators jumped to Hanabusa’s defense after the exchange, decrying Zinke for what some called a racially charged remark.
During the Breitbart interview, the far-right publication called the debacle “one other fake controversy” perpetuated by CNN.
Hanabusa responded to Zenke’s comments Tuesday.
“Secretary Ryan Zinke continues to miss the point,”Hanabusa said in a statement provided to TPM. “This is racial stereotyping. And this is racial stereotyping that occurred while I questioned him about funding to preserve and protect Japanese internment sites in my capacity as a member of Congress. Does he greet other members of Congress in their ancestral language? This mentality led to a dark period in American history that saw 120,000 men, women and children, including my grandfathers, sent to internment camps during WWII.”