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Remembering the Life and Legacy of Norman Mineta

By May 20, 2022July 12th, 2022No Comments

Floyd Shimomura, John Tateishi, Norman Mineta, Frank Sato and Ron Ikejiri at the 2018 National JACL Convention in Salt Lake City. (Photo by George Toshio Johnston)

Condolences from across the nation continue in memory of the late-U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who passed away on May 3 at age 90.

Tributes and condolences honoring the extraordinary lifetime of the Hon. Norman Y. Mineta, who died peacefully surrounded by family in Edgewater, Md., on May 3 due to a heart ailment according to John Flaherty, Mineta’s former chief of staff, continue across the country, honoring the man who broke racial barriers for Asian Americans and committed his life to public service.

Forcibly incarcerated as a young boy at Heart Mountain in Wyoming at the onset of World War II to eventually serving as the mayor of San Jose, Calif., early in his career to becoming Secretary of Transportation under both Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush — where he ordered the grounding of all U.S. commercial flights following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2011 — Mineta committed his lifetime to ensuring the betterment of all Americans.

In 2006, Mineta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush, who in his remarks said of Mineta: “As I said when presenting him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Norm has given his country a lifetime of service, and he’s given his fellow citizens an example of leadership, devotion to duty and personal character.”

On May 7, the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies livestreamed special messages from the Mineta family, including his wife, Danealia (“Deni”), and sons, David and Stuart Mineta, as they addressed the AANHPI community following Mineta’s death.

Deni and Norman Y. Mineta, who died May 3 at 90.

“I would like to express appreciation to the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities gathered today. You are all family. Norm was of the community and loved the time he’s been in the community,” said Deni Mineta during the livestream. “And many of you are friends and colleagues and have been for decades. The closeness of this community, our ohana, exceeded all that we could have hoped for in our lives. While we haven’t seen many of you for a while, please know that you remained in Norm’s heart. You embraced Norm. You embraced our family. And you have been precious, precious friends. I want to thank you for your friendship, for being our ohana and loving Norm. Thank you.”

Said Stuart Mineta: “Dad loved working and being with you all. He loved the work you were doing. That probably reminded him of his start so many decades ago. That sense of community joining together for the common good, that joining together was what helped lift him up to help others.

“Our family is profoundly touched and proud by the outpouring of condolences, but really, it’s the stories that so many are sharing about their interactions with dad that have made such an impact on us,” Stuart Mineta continued. “. . . We were lucky enough to follow his example. And to hear that he made such an impression on so many people just reinforces what we knew about dad and how he lived his life. So, thank you for continuing his life’s work of advocacy and service for others.”

In remembering his father, David Mineta recalled, “In whatever way you knew dad, the feeling that brought you here today is very real. He loved you. And was proud of you. Just like the family we all are. … He cherished the work you did together. He exalted in your rise and promotions, and he sank with your lows and hardships. He was as proud of your achievements, personal, professional, you know, marriages, births, as any proud father or grandfather could be. All of it brought him sustenance. And it was beautiful. It was real and will always be even as he departs this world for the next. … Cry the necessary tears of mourning. Laugh out loud with the belly laugh that is required when remembering a funny moment. But know our community is fundamentally stronger for the love you gave him. And he gave us back. It is not hyperbole to say the imprint on the collective American experience is fundamentally different because of it. It is what we know is a basic truth and the very large extended family of Norman Y. Mineta. As dad would always say, thanks a million.”

Remembrances from across the nation are many. Following are anecdotes, tributes and loving memories of the late Norman Y. Mineta.

Jeffrey Moy (JACL national president)

“I first met Secretary Mineta, then-Congressman, as a child in a chance encounter at a local hardware store in Maryland. I never imagined that years later, I would be lucky enough for our paths to cross again and again, whether at various events in Washington, D.C., or at JACL conventions. That so many others undoubtedly feel the same way underscores how important Norm was to our community and the impact he had across generations, whether through the various political positions he served or as a great friend and supporter of JACL. I will forever remember how he championed civil rights, working across the aisle with class and dignity, willing to listen but never straying from his core values. While his loss is immeasurable, his mentorship and support of our community leave an everlasting legacy for all of us to carry forward.”

David Inoue (JACL executive director)

“Secretary Mineta was well known for his leadership in the Japanese American and Asian American community, especially with JACL. What I will remember most was at an event where everyone, as always, wanted to talk to him, but he took the time to pull my then-8-year-old son aside and spoke with him at length with all his attention. It was this warmth that guided Secretary Mineta throughout his career and made him such a great mentor to so many people. He often spoke of how important the words ‘American Citizen’ were to him, and he provided us all with a model of how to be the best possible.”

John Tateishi (former JACL executive director and former JACL National Redress Committee chair)

“As the nation mourns the passing of Norm Mineta for his many contributions in his lifetime of public service, we in the community feel his loss on a deeply personal level and recognize that we have lost one of the best among us. Despite all his many achievements and national stature, Norm remained humble and never forgot his roots in the community and opened the portal through which hundreds of Asian Americans have passed to run for public office. And having worked with Norm for several years on the redress campaign, I know that he was a driving force of the JACL’s redress effort even before we took the campaign public, and I know, too, that his leadership and dedication were instrumental in the success of the campaign. There would not have been redress without Norm Mineta, of that, I am absolutely certain.”

Floyd Mori (past JACL national president and executive director)

“Norm Mineta and his encouraging spirit will be sorely missed in the AANHPI community. He was one of a kind who was a shining star, yet he served others willingly without question. He was a mentor and supporter of all that I did during the past 50 years. He was a dear friend who influenced my life always for the better. Our love and condolences to his family.”

Ron Wakabayashi (past JACL national director)

“His accomplishments are many and significant, but the image pictured for me is just having lunch in the House Dining Room and seeing the powerful politician bantering with the wait staff. He knew them by name and their families. He knew the milestones and trials for each of them. I’d seen this in Japanese American community events. He knew everyone by name, by situation and family. Wait staff or community members, he was just a decent, thoughtful and considerate man. His work rested on these qualities.

“When the vote on HR442 was before the House, Speaker Jim Wright, who was an early co-sponsor, had Norm chair that session. He presided over the vote. A trivia note is that he, the bill author, did not vote. Since he would be a beneficiary, he abstained. It would have been a conflict of interest. But, the votes were there because his colleagues so respected him and his integrity.

“I’m surprised at how deeply his passing affects me. The community communication with the news of his passing shows a deeply personal sense of loss. He was the best of us. I am so sad because I am so grateful.”

Karen Narasaki (former JACL Washington representative and former U.S. Commission on Civil Rights commissioner)

“I was given the assignment of asking him to address the JACL convention in Utah on the issue of marriage equality. The ask was only to remind JACL members how Congressman Barney Frank had moved redress out of his committee, but Mineta insisted on taking a strong position supporting the right for same-sex couples to marry. His speech is one of the reasons JACL maintained its historic position by a handful of votes. He told me that a good Congressman should be willing to risk losing donors and an election to be on the right side of history.

“I sat in meetings with him when he was Secretary of Transportation, after 9/11, with members of the South Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim communities, experiencing discrimination at airports where he committed to reminding the airlines of their obligations not to discriminate and am certain that Mineta is one of the reasons that President Bush made an early visit to a mosque to try to stem the backlash. Through it all, he mentored thousands of community leaders, young elected officials and federal appointees. He was generous with his wisdom, with his time and with his friendship.”

Dianne Fukami (producer/director, ‘Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Legacy’)

“It was a privilege and honor to get to know Norm really well during the seven years of production on the documentary film “Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Legacy.” In his presence, he made you so comfortable, and he’s so self-effacing you forget that he had been at the highest levels of power and about all of his accomplishments. Because he was the same age as my Nisei parents, I understood him, but on the other hand, he had the drive and courage to excel at a level other Japanese Americans rarely reach.

“I hope that he is remembered for his integrity, his love for people and his commitment to help underrepresented people, whether it was people of color, people with disabilities or people in the LGBTQ community. He was one of a kind and will be truly missed.” (Related article: See pacificcitizen.org/norman-minetas-legacy-chronicled-on-pbs/.)

Japanese American Veterans Assn.

Mineta served as JAVA Honorary Chair and received the organization’s Courage, Honor and Patriotism Award in the fall of 2017.

“The nation will always be deeply indebted to Norm for his generous support and service throughout the years. He dedicated his life to public service and giving back to the community. He was one of the strongest advocates in educating the American public about the injustices and discrimination that were imposed on persons of Japanese ancestry living in America after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He has used his personal knowledge of those injustices to inspire others and his public service skills to right those wrongs.

“His vigorous commitment to ensuring that those wrongs are never repeated against any oppressed group demonstrated his unwavering patriotism and faith in America. He is a role model, showing that through perseverance, strength and integrity, all Americans can use shared experiences to find common ground to unite to fight against prejudice and injustice and preserve the continued success of our democracy.

“All of us will be thinking of Norm in the coming days and months as we adjust to his passing. Norm will be missed.”

JANM

Mineta served as the museum’s board of trustees chair.

“As JANM looks to the future, the museum will always remember Secretary Mineta, whose achievements have inspired the Asian American community and uplifted the nation. Norm helped steer and elevate JANM to national prominence. His generosity, diplomacy and love for his country helped the Asian American community and other communities of color address acts of violence from the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, to the alarming rise in anti-Asian hate. He was a stalwart advocate of advancing the American ideals of equality, justice and liberty for all. Norm’s legacy will never be forgotten,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM.

“Norm always said that everyone has two arms: One to climb the ladder of success and one to reach down, pick someone else and pull them up behind you. He was a beacon of inspiration and support for the Museum, the nation and the world. His voice shaped national and international conversations on social justice, and his light will continue to live in all of us and inspire generations of leaders. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and all of his many friends and colleagues who have had the special gift of friendship and time with Secretary Mineta.”