WASHINGTON -- Facing stinging criticism from Asian-American organizations and a Japanese-American member of Congress, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has apologized for asking why the majority of the winners of a national scholarship contest didn't have "normal American" names.
The freshman Republican, who made the remark at a meeting between members of the Maryland congressional delegation and Gov. William Donald Schaefer March 3, initially refused to apologize. But on Tuesday, Mr. Bartlett wrote to Rep. Norman Y. Mineta of California to say he was sorry for "my clumsy words," adding that "no matter where we came from, no matter what our ancestry, we are all Americans."
Mr. Mineta, one of 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, had called Mr. Bartlett the day after the incident and written a sharp letter to the freshman Republican from Western Maryland.
In addition, Mr. Bartlett met Tuesday with leaders of two Asian-American groups to express his regrets. Yesterday, Mr. Bartlett also released his letter of apology to members of the Asian-American media.
At the meeting with the governor, Mr. Bartlett had said he recently had seen a brochure with the winners of the annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search and noted that "about half had Asian names, five or six went to people with Middle Eastern names" and only about a third went to students with "normal American" names.
In an interview following the session with the governor, Mr. Bartlett added that students of European descent "were underrepresented."
"I want to make it absolutely clear that the objections raised to your words have nothing to do with 'political correctness,' nor I do I like the idea of playing language police," Mr. Mineta wrote.
"But Asian-Americans have learned in the hardest way possible that we cannot let such words go unchallenged.
"The ultimate point here is that there is no such thing as a foreign face, or a foreign name, in America. I hope you will take steps to )
correct the record as soon as possible."
In his response, Mr. Bartlett wrote: "Please accept my apologies for the misunderstanding. I greatly admire the achievement of Asian-American students.
"Their work ethic and their moral architecture, which both inspires and constrains them, and the family cohesiveness, which supports them, are qualities more Americans shared in past decades. They are qualities which we all need to return to."
Mr. Bartlett did not immediately return a reporter's phone call yesterday. But James Lafferty, an aide to Mr. Bartlett, said the congressman told representatives from the Japanese Americans Citizens League and the Organization of Chinese Americans that he regretted using the word "normal," adding that Mr. Bartlett was "thinking in the strict scientific sense of the word, meaning that Asian students were above the norm."
The aide added that Mr. Bartlett still believes the question of why so many Asian Americans excel in the sciences is legitimate. There are lessons to be learned from all successful students, he said.