Interior secretary wrongly used 'konnichiwa' at hearing on Japanese-American internment camps

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As for Zinke's comments, Inoue says: "I think it was a ideal encapsulation of why this funding is so important, that it perfectly demonstrated the latent racism that does exist in this country".

"I believe that it is essential that we as a nation recognize our darkest moments so that we don't have them repeat again", she said.

Hanabusa's point was to highlight a grant that helps preserve Japanese-American confinement sites - and how that funding isn't included in the administration's 2019 budget. Democrat Representative of California Judy Chu called for Zinke to apologize.

"I think it's still 'ohayo gozaimasu,' but that's OK", Hanabusa said, correcting him with the more appropriate greeting for "good morning".

The Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) program has provided more than $21 million of funding for the research and preservation of World War II-era incarceration camps, collection centers, and Department of Justice prisons fore more than a decade.

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Japanese American Senator Mazie Hirono criticised Zinke's response via Twitter.

Grants issued through the program have "kept this history alive", Hanabusa said.

"No better example of why we need continued support for historical sites where the rights of Japanese Americans were violated because of race. Zinke's comment betrayed a prejudice that being Asian makes you a perpetual foreigner", saidRep. Mitchell Maki, president and chief executive officer of the organization, said that Zinke's remarks suggest an "inability to distinguish an American of Japanese ancestry from a citizen of Japan". "Nope. Racism is not ok" she tweeted.

"The internment of almost 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter", she wrote, adding that the response was "flippant & juvenile".

The U.S. government began imprisoning Japanese-Americans following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. "It was based exclusively on race, for these 120,000 were Americans of Japanese descent".