This is a guest post by Informal Learning Office’s virtual intern, Eori Tokunaga.
Norman Yoshio Mineta, who passed away earlier this month, had a long and influential history in American politics and was a proponent of restitution for Japanese American families who were incarcerated during World War II. We are celebrating his contributions to this country and the Library this month during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In 1971, Mineta was elected the first Japanese American mayor for his hometown of San Jose, California. He would later serve as a member of the House of Representatives for twenty years, as the 33rd Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce from 2000 to 2001, and as the 14th Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation from 2001 to 2006. During his tenure he oversaw the Coast Guard’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Born and raised in California, Mineta and his family were among 120,000 civilians of Japanese descent who were forcibly removed from their homes and confined in camps during World War II. Years later, Norman Mineta co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to grant reparations to Japanese Americans who were held in internment camps as a result of Executive Order 9066. The bill states that the government’s decision to incarcerate Japanese Americans was based on “racial prejudice and wartime hysteria.”
“There were good citizens who didn’t rise up to protest what was happening to their Japanese American friends and neighbors in 1942. But if we will speak out when we see someone’s constitutional rights being violated, if we will act together, then we are strong enough to withstand any evil, internal or external, that threatens to unravel this beautiful tapestry that is America.”
In 2019, Mineta shared his childhood experiences first-hand during a talk at the Library with authors Andrea Warren and Monica Hesse. Warren captures Mineta’s journey from a boy who simply loved baseball to a man who represented his community in her book “Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta.”
“We often liken America to a melting pot where we blend together, giving us one identity. But I think our strength is rooted in our differences. We are all strands of yarn–different textures, different colors–woven together, we make a strong, integrated whole.”
– Norman Mineta in “Enemy Child”
Timestamps for key topics include:
- 24:02–Mineta’s experience as a child when the notices for Executive Order 9066 first started appearing
- 35:20–Mineta’s experiences as a Boy Scout in the camps and meeting Alan Simpson, who would later serve in Congress with Mineta
- 38:55–How Mineta and Alan Simpson worked together on the Civil Liberties Act of 1988
- 39:48–Mineta’s life immediately after the camps, returning back to San Jose
- 45:55–Mineta’s dad’s efforts to support the war effort during World War II
- 46:36–Mineta’s experience as Secretary of Transportation, particularly during 9/11
- 49:50: Q& A with students begins
We leave you with the advice that Mineta spoke to the young people in the audience:
“You own two things that no one else owns: your name and your integrity. Protect both of those. Protect both.”
And at 52:43:
“There are no shortcuts in life…whatever you’re going to do in life, you’ve got to have integrity, trust, and respect to get things done.”
To learn more about Mineta, his contributions to the Library’s collections, and the Library’s Asian and AAPI collections:
- Oral history interview with Norman Mineta from the Library’s Veterans History Project
- Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese American Internment Camp Newspapers, a storymap from the Library’s Serials and Government Publications Division
- Protecting Civil Liberties & National Security: A Conversation with Norman Mineta and Alan Simpson sponsored by the Library’s Kluge Center for Scholars (for parents & teens)
- Asian American and Pacific Islander Materials: A Resource Guide
- Asian Reading Room collections
- Asian Collections research guide
“You own two things that no one else owns: your name and your integrity. Protect both of those. Protect both”
Such wise words. What a loss, and what an honor that he was able to meet with students at the Library.
Thank you Eori and Sasha for this beautiful tribute.