WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some state officials are up in arms over an awkward exchange between U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
After Zinke addressed Hanabusa at a hearing Thursday by beginning with "konnichiwa," – the Japanese greeting typically used during mid-day – Hanabusa is calling the exchange an example of "racial stereotyping."
In a statement released Saturday, Hanabusa said Zinke's remark was telling of a deeper issue.
"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,'" Hanabusa said.
Zinke was before the House Natural Resources Committee to discuss the president's proposed fiscal year 2019 budget plan for the U.S. Department of the Interior, whose more than 70,000 employees maintain national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands.
And Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), wanted to know about a number of deep cuts to programs.
In particular, the Hawaii Congresswoman asked Zinke about a plan to zero out a $2 million in grants to institutions that help preserve Japanese-American internment camps in Hawaii and on the mainland.
"I sit before you the granddaughter of two internees, both of my grandfathers were interned during World War II," Hanabusa said. "It is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so that we don't have them repeat again."
After Zinke blurted out the Japanese phrase, there was a brief pause before Hanabusa cut in, "I think it's still 'ohayo gozaimasu' (or good morning), but that's OK."
Gov. David Ige also chimed in on twitter, implying that Zinke's remark was bigoted and racist.
"It is racial stereotyping," Hanabusa said. "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."
Hanabusa also used her statement as a call-to-action for the public to contact Zinke's office about restoring funding for the Japanese Area Confinement Sites grant program.
"The real issue here is that the administration ignored one of the most racially motivated periods in American history by defunding the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program," Hanabusa said.
WATCH THE DISCUSSION HERE:
This story may be updated.