The NAJC heard the sad news that Norman Mineta died. He was the first Asian American cabinet member who served both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. He served as the United States Secretary of Transportation, the only Democratic Cabinet Secretary in the Bush administration. His role was an important one especially during and after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He would set in motion and implement improved safety not only for air-travel, but also for travel by train, bus, ship and boat.
He made his mark even earlier when in 1971 he was elected as mayor of San Jose, California, becoming the first Japanese American mayor of a major US city. Later, he ran for Congress and won. He would be re-elected 10 more times.
He was a survivor. He was 10 years old when he and his family and 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated by the American government under suspicion of being spies during the Second World War. In 1988, he would co-sponsor the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which authorized payments and formal apologies to the survivors and heirs who had been incarcerated. He attempted to quell the racist scrutiny of Middle Eastern or Muslim airline passengers after 9-11. Ten days after the attacks he directed United States airlines to stop the excessive pre-flight scrutiny, but it was practically impossible to enforce the orders.
NAJC members met Norman Mineta at the COPANI XX convention in San Francisco in September 2019. He was the keynote speaker and spent time with the delegates. He took time to speak to NAJC president Lorene Oikawa and other members of the NAJC delegation. His conversations and his speech were inspiring. For his keynote, he urged the rapt audience to “own two things that no one else owns” – our name and our integrity, and to protect both. He encouraged us to be at the table where decisions are being made and to get involved with the development of public policy.
We are honoured to have met him. The NAJC offer our sincerest condolences to his wife Deni Brantner, his children, and all those close to him. His life was inspiring, and he will continue to inspire future generations.