Norman Yoshio Mineta, a true American legend, trailblazer, and friend, passed away on May 3, 2022. Norm dedicated his life to public service and left the United States of America a better country because of his work.
Norm Mineta was born in San Jose, California on November 12, 1931. Shortly after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, this racially based order forced Norm, his family, and over 100,000 other Japanese Americans out of their homes and lives and into internment camps. Norm and his family spent several years interned at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Cody, Wyoming. Despite being interned as a child during World War II, he dedicated his life to fighting for others and serving his community.
As a young man in the Bay Area, Norm helped supply insurance to thousands of Asian Americans when they were unable to obtain insurance. In 1967, San Jose Mayor Ron James appointed Norm to a vacant seat on the San Jose City Council. During his time as a Councilmember, his colleagues voted him to be the city’s Vice Mayor.
After serving four years on the City Council, he became the first Asian American elected Mayor of San José in 1971. Norm was so loved by the community that his Mayoral campaign won every single precinct in San Jose, garnering 60% of the total vote. He was then elected to Congress in 1975 and subsequently reelected in the next ten elections, always collecting at least 57% of the vote.
During his two decades as a Congressional Representative for the Greater San José area, his numerous contributions included transforming transportation planning nationwide, and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that granted reparations to interned Japanese Americans.
Norm was the first Asian American to hold a cabinet post when he served as Secretary of Commerce for President Clinton. He then became one of only four Americans to hold a Cabinet position under presidents from different parties when he became Secretary of Transportation in 2001. During the most perilous of times for America, he guided our nation by making the unprecedented decision to ground all planes during the 9/11 attacks. Acting on his lived experiences at the internment camps during World War II, Norm stopped airlines from practicing racial profiling against the Muslim community thereafter. At the heart of his legacy is the steadfast leadership and poise that protected our nation and our civil liberties.
I am humbled to have been mentored by him for the past number of years. I am truly fortunate and grateful to learn from the wisdom and experiences that he shared with me. His service opened a pathway for generations of Asian Americans to serve and lead in Santa Clara County and the across the nation. I revere him as a role model for his selfless loyalty to our nation.
He will be missed by so many, but he will always be remembered. Rest in peace, rest in power and rest in honor, Norm.
By Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee