Norman Mineta


Name Norman Y. Mineta
Born November 12 1931
Birth Location San José, CA
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Politician and former U.S. Congressman Norman Y. Mineta (1931– ) was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. He was also the first Asian American to hold a post in the presidential cabinet as secretary of commerce for President William Clinton (2000–01) and as secretary of transportation for President George W. Bush (2001–06).

Early Life

The youngest of five children, Norman Yoshio Mineta was born in San José, California, on November 12, 1931, to Kunisaku and Kane Mineta. His father came to the United States as a teenager in 1902, and his picture bride mother arrived in 1912. After moving from Seattle, his father settled in San José, where he owned and operated a successful insurance agency.

After the outbreak of WWII, the family, which included his brother Albert and three sisters Aya, Etsu, and Helen, was forcibly removed to the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, then to the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming in November 1942. While a young Boy Scout in camp, Mineta crossed paths with fellow scout Alan K. Simpson, the future senator from Wyoming, and the two would be reunited years later while serving in Congress to become close political allies.

In 1943, his father volunteered to be sent to Chicago to teach Japanese in a specialized training program for American soldiers. His mother and Norman followed later that year.

The family returned to San José in 1946 at which time his father was able to resume his insurance business and move back into the family home that had been held for them by a local attorney for the duration of the war. Mineta attended San Jose High School where he was elected student body president before graduating in 1949. He then graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a major in business. Having participated in the Reserve Officers Training Program, he went on to serve as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army in Japan during the Korean War from 1953 to 1956. Upon returning to San José after the war, he joined his father in the insurance business.

As Public Servant

Encouraged by his father to become active in community service, Mineta became involved in the Japanese American community in San José with organizations like the JACL and the local Japanese American Methodist church. With the support of local leaders like Kozo Ishimatsu, a lettuce grower, Mineta was influenced toward civic involvement, starting with an appointment to the San José Human Relations Commission in 1962 and then to the municipal Housing Authority Board in 1966. He was elected to the San José City Council after serving briefly in an appointed position, and in 1971 was elected mayor of San José, the first Asian Pacific American to serve in such a capacity in a major American city.

In 1974 Mineta was elected to the U.S. House of Representative to represent California's 13th District, the first Democrat to win such election in thirty years. He was also the first Japanese American from the mainland to be elected to Congress. As a member of Congress for the next twenty-one years, he sponsored or co-sponsored 479 bills, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 and the Intermodal Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. He was appointed to the position of Democratic deputy whip of the 97th Congress, and became a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. He also served as chair of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee (1992-94), the Aviation Subcommittee (1981-86), and the Surface Transportation Subcommittee (1989-91). In 1994 he co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and served as its first chair.

Mineta's leadership role was crucial in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. As one of four Japanese American legislators, he worked closely with community advocates and lobbied his fellow congressmen throughout the lengthy legislative process leading up to the vote on the House bill H.R. 442 on September 17, 1987, a date chosen by Mineta because it marked the 200th Anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. Arguing firmly in favor of monetary compensation, Mineta addressed his fellow representatives by saying, "We lost our homes, we lost our businesses, we lost our farms, but worst of all, we lost our most basic human rights." The House bill passed that day, and was later confirmed by the Senate on April 20, 1988.

Serving on Two Presidential Cabinets

Following his resignation after twenty-one years of service in Congress, Mineta assumed the position of vice president of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the aeronautical engineering company, and chairman of the National Civil Aviation Review Commission. Later, he was appointed by President Clinton to serve as his secretary of commerce at the end of Clinton's second term, thereby becoming the first Asian American to serve on a presidential cabinet.

With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, he was appointed as secretary of transportation for the Republican administration. As secretary of transportation during the 9/11 attack, he directed all civil aircraft over U.S. airspace to land shortly after the third plane attacked the Pentagon. Shortly thereafter, he instructed all airlines to refrain from racial profiling against Middle Eastern or Muslim passengers. Over the next year, the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was placed under his department, and his team oversaw its mobilization before the TSA moved to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Mineta resigned as secretary of transportation in 2006 after over five years, ending his tenure as the longest serving secretary in the department's history.

After leaving the cabinet post, he became vice chairman of the Washington-based Hill & Knowlton, a strategic global planning firm. In 2010 he joined L & L Energy, Inc. as its vice chairman.

Mineta is married to Danealia (Deni) Mineta. He has two sons, David and Stuart Mineta, and two stepsons, Robert and Mark Brantner.

Other Honors and Recognitions

In 2002 the San José Airport was renamed the Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport, and San José State University named the Norman Mineta Transportation Institute after the transportation secretary. California State Highway 85 was also renamed in his honor.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to him by President Bush shortly after Mineta's resignation in 2006.

In 2007 he was given the Grand Cordon, Order of the Rising Sun, by the government of Japan. He also received the Distinguished Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement and Public Service from the Japanese American National Museum in 2012.

Authored by Sharon Yamato

For More Information

Brokaw, Tom. The Greatest Generation. New York: Random House, 1998.

Guide to the Norman Mineta Papers. San José State University, Special Collections and Archives. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt2n39r8jd/.

Guide to the Norman Y. Mineta Papers, 1975–1996. Japanese American National Museum. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf938nb3m0/. [Mineta's congressional district office files.]