If you’re of Chinese background, do you ever have non-Chinese people come up to
you and try to score points with a well timed “Ni hao”?
Or if you’re Filipino, do you get a “Mabuhay” or two?
According to the latest Census numbers, there are about five million of Chinese
ancestry in the U.S. and another 4 million or so of Filipino heritage. That’s
nearly half of all Asian Americans in the U.S. Chances are good if you see a
person of Chinese or Filipino descent in the U.S., you’re talking to someone
whose family has been here for several generations.
Here’s a friendly tip to non-Asian Americans: When you see us, just greet us
with a simple, “Hello.”
You don’t want to seem like some cloying unwoke racist, do you?
So, ni hao? No way.
Mabuhay? Say what?
It’s Racism 101.
We know when people try hard to address us in some mother tongue, what they’re
saying is they see us as a foreigner, n’est-ce pas?
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest to display the not so innocent,
knee-jerk, racist tendency.
It happened as he was addressing the concerns of Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
If you missed it, this one was on March 15, an Ides of March occurrence worth
Zinke’s previous claim to fame would be his lavish tastes in private jet travel,
including chartering jets on the public’s dime worth $12,000 from Las Vegas to
his Montana hometown, and another between two Caribbean islands. All are
excessive, but in a Trump administration, he has been spared far greater scorn
because the trips apparently don’t involve Russians or porn stars.
Besides, $12,000 in charter flights is less than HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s
$31,000 dinette set.
And all of that still lower on the outrage scale than anything Donald Trump has
done in the last 12 hours on Twitter.
But on Thursday, Zinke was back in the news for his comments to Hanabusa.
The congresswoman very pointedly questioned Zinke about a line item budget
deletion for grants to preserve sites where Japanese Americans were interned
during World War II.
Hanabusa referred to her own parents experience as internees on the mainland,
but also to her grandfather whom she only found out later in life had been
interned in a camp on Oahu.
She wanted to know if Zinke was committed to assuring that a Japanese American
confinement sites grants program funded in 2017 would be renewed for 2018.
A simple yes would have sufficed.
But Zinke, because he looked at Hanabusa and heard her accent, saw her first as
a foreigner rather than as a member of Congress. And then he revealed the racism
in his heart.
“Oh, konnichiwa,” said Zinke in greeting Hanabusa.
It plays worse in real life. See it here.
Hanabusa was quick with a comeback, correcting Zinke for using a phrase that
generally means “good day,” or “good evening,” and not used in the morning.
“I think it’s ‘ohayou gozaimasu’, but that’s ok,” Hanabusa shot back, using the
more appropriate phrase for the morning.
Zinke, undeterred as most clueless insensitive whites are after committing such
a transgression, went on to answer how the funding got lost in the Interior
department’s budgeting process and that he agreed with Hanabusa and would look
But after “konnichiwa,” did it matter? Did he have any credibility left?
Sen. Mazie Hirono
internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans is no laughing matter,
@SecretaryZinke. What you thought was a clever response to @RepHanabasua was
flippant & juvenile.”
I know Mazie from the 80’s when I met her at a Democratic convention. She was
being kind to Zinke.
I know Hanabusa from my days as an editorial writer at the now defunct Honolulu
Advertiser. She’s got a reputation for being a real pitbull of a labor lawyer.
You don’t mess with Hanabusa. And as a public servant, I know her to be a
fighter who never gives up.
Zinke, the former Navy Seal, got off easy.
Other Asian American groups called for no less than a public apology from Zinke,
which still may not be enough. Maybe Trump will use it as an excuse to get rid
of his charter flight abuser?
The foreign language/familiarity ploy is a transgression Asian Americans know
too well. It happens to all of us at some time when someone pulls out a “Ni
Hao,” a “Mabuhay,” a “Namast,e” or an “An nyoung ha seh yo.”
It’s not a bridge. It’s an insult. We’re Americans. Talk to us in American.
Give us a “Yo,” or a “What’s up, doc?”
The Zinke “konnichiwa” utterance couldn’t happen at a better time to raise our
awareness. Remember it was the American assumption that Japanese Americans were
foreign and loyal to the Emperor in Japan that WWII internment camps were
instituted in the first place.
Maybe it’s a good time for Zinke’s racism to come to the fore. In the U.S.,
there are xenophobic signs all over.
You may have seen that video last week of the Arizona moms who took their
children on a hate crime lesson then posted their anti-Muslim rant. That’s
pretty egregious. Fortunately, society still knows that’s wrong.
Of course, more cleaned up versions of the same thing are seen out in the open
An ad was seen at BART stations in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. The
sentiments were straight out of 1882 (Chinese Exclusion Act);1934 (the year
Filipinos lost their American national status and were voluntarily repatriated
to the Philippines); 1941 (the internment year).
Foreigners taking jobs? Get the foreigners out? It’s policy fueled by America
First rhetoric. It comes from the same place as Zinke’s stink.
California is already being sued by the Trump administration for showing
compassion toward the undocumented through its sanctuary policies. And it comes
as xenophobia seems to be snowballing, especially as Trump is beginning to show
signs of losing it. Firing the adults in his cabinet who keep him in check?
Lying like no politician has ever lied before? And bragging about it?
Consider how Trump puts a value on loyalty of cabinet members and staffers. How
long before he begins to put a value on the loyalty of ordinary citizens?
Far-fetched? Not from President Shole, a/k/a “David Dennison,” the man who would
hush the porn star. Nothing is far-fetched these days.
We’ll know for sure where we stand if Trump ever meets with Asian Americans and
we hear him say, “Konnichiwa.”
In the meantime, to all our real friends and allies, a simple “Hello” will do.