Norman Mineta – a 10-term California congressman who later served as Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush – was remembered Tuesday as “an extraordinary leader” and “friend” by the Japanese American National Museum, of which he was chairman of the board.
Mineta, 90, died Tuesday of heart disease at her home in Edgewater, Maryland.
“Norm helped shape and elevate JANM to national prominence,” Ann Burroughs, the museum’s president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday.
“His generosity, diplomacy, and love for his country helped the Asian American community and other communities of color deal with acts of violence from the aftermath of September 11, 2001, to the alarming rise in anti- Asian. He was a strong advocate for the promotion of American ideals of equality, justice, and freedom for all. Norm’s legacy will never be forgotten.
Mineta was born in San Jose on November 12, 1931, and later, along with her family, was among approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans placed in internment camps in the United States during World War II. He and his family were first held at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia before being moved to Heart Mountain in Wyoming.
“Heart Mountain taught me that we must be vigilant about upholding our democratic ideals, not vigilantes. A life in public service taught me that we must work across the aisle to defend these ideals for everyone,” Mineta said on the 2022 “Day of Remembrance” to commemorate the 80th anniversary of “Executive Order 9066.” It was President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1942 order authorizing internments.
Mineta served 10 terms in the House of Representatives, representing San Jose from 1975 to 1995, before joining aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. He returned to government in 2000 and served as Commerce Secretary for the last six months of the Clinton administration, becoming the first Japanese-American to hold a cabinet post.
He then served as George W. Bush’s transportation secretary from 2001 to 2006.
While in Congress, Mineta co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 – authorizing formal reparations and apologies to internees or their survivors. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
Mineta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – America’s highest civilian honor – in 2006. He was also awarded JANM’s Distinguished Medal of Honor in 2012.
He has served as chairman of the museum’s board of trustees since 2015 and a director since 1996. Previously, he served on the board of governors of JANM from 1988 to 1995 and served as its chairman from 2010 to 2015.
“Norm always said that everyone has two arms: one to climb the ladder of success and one to descend, choose someone else and pull them behind you,” Burroughs said.
“He was a beacon of inspiration and support for the museum, the nation and the world. Her voice has shaped national and international conversations on social justice, and her light will live on in all of us and inspire generations of leaders.