Remembering Norman Mineta

This is a guest post by Informal Learning Office’s virtual intern, Eori Tokunaga. 

Norman Yoshino Mineta (Democrat), 13th District, California, member of the United States House of Representatives. 1974, Congressional Portrait Collection

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.

Terrorist attacks – federal aviation security standards. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta during the Senate Commerce hearing. September 20, 2001, photograph by Scott J. Ferrell.

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.”

Young residents of Japanese ancestry awaiting a bus at the Wartime Civil Control Administration station. They are part of the first group of 664 San Francisco evacuees to be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. San Francisco, Calif. Apr. 1942. Photograph by Dorothea Lange.

“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.”

High school recess period, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943. Photograph by Ansel Adams.

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:

At 51:31:

“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:

Searching for the American Chestnut in the Library of Congress

This is a guest blog by Mary Ellen Hawkins, Teaching with Primary Sources Intern at the Young Reader’s Center and Programs Lab. For information on this intenship opportunity, please follow this link. To celebrate Arbor Day today this year,  maybe you and your family will go for a nature walk around your neighborhood or the […]