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Thanks a Million, Norm!

Courtesy of the Mineta Legacy Project

Norman Y. Mineta, Board of Trustees Chair at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), was a fount of inspiration for the younger generation.

An extraordinary leader and mentor, Secretary Mineta inspired careers in a range of disciplines, exemplified kindness and diplomacy, and recognized the potential in everyone. His light lives on in all of us.

On Saturday, June 25, 2022, JANM will host a Celebration of Life in his honor. Read on for our memories of Norm and more details about the upcoming event.

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Rob Buscher (President of the Philadelphia JACL and board chair of the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival)

Courtesy of Rob Buscher

“When my Obaachan, Yukari Mikesell, was the JACL Dayton chapter president at the start of Redress she told me that Norm would let her and the other JACL members who were lobbying at the hill nap on the couch in his office between meetings. The first time I met Norm was at the JACL/OCA Leadership Summit in 2014 and when I asked if he remembered my Obaachan he was able to recall all the details of her family, despite not having seen her in over 25 years. He then corresponded with her several times in the years since, after requesting her mailing address. Norm went out of his way to make people feel special and did so much behind the scenes to support our community. We are all lucky to have had a role model like him in our lives.”

Kurt Ikeda (Director of Interpretation and Education at Minidoka National Historic Site)

Secretary Mineta and Kurt Ikeda unintentionally matching at the JACL/OCA Leadership Summit (2016) Credit: Kurt Ikeda

Seat at the Table

February 27, 2016 - 6:25pm
The tap of your cane signaled your arrival.
Washington, D.C.
On time - 5 mins early. 

You wore a blue blazer over a red turtle neck sweater with aviator sunglasses hanging on the collar. 

A refashioned baseball bat in one hand, you welcome us with the other.

Leaning your right arm on your storied cane. You lead off with a story. Your story.

“Everyone has two arms to climb the ladder of success.” 

You lift us up with your left. 

Then the story about the cabinet meeting. The seat you had at the table. Representation avoids repetition. But history often rhymes. “Don’t shy away from who you are. Bring everything to the table.”

So we pull up a chair to share across the table you have set. Decorated by stories of crossing aisles with fellow countrymen. 

Our country is a tapestry. “A tapestry, when it’s woven together, makes for a stronger hold.”

You wore a blue blazer over a red sweater. Leaning on a cane built out of “E pluribus unum.”

Stephanie Nitahara (Senior Program Manager at Community Partners)

Credit: Stephanie Nitahara

“Norm Mineta always said, ‘I’m privileged to be standing on the shoulders of giants of the past. I hope to play a small role in encouraging Asian Pacific Americans to go up the ladder of success, and to pull someone else up with them.’ Always. At every gala, at every convention, he would call the following generations to action with these words. The news of his passing hits harder today amongst the ongoing legalization of violence towards women, queer and trans folks, and people of color. Rest in power.”

Mia Russell (Executive Assistant at JANM)

With Secretary Mineta and Former Senator Alan Simpson at the 2018 Heart Mountain Pilgrimage. Coutesy of Mia Russell.

“In the days since Secretary Mineta’s passing, I’ve enjoyed seeing the reflections on what he meant to others. What stands out time and time again is that as big as he was in stature, he was never too busy to have authentic conversations with each person, and always remembered the smallest interactions. He made every person feel special, and like he truly was our Uncle Norm.

I’m reminded that so many institutions that we take for granted as part of the fabric of our community were founded by Norm, like the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), and National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF). He had unmatched vision and worked hard to implement it in real ways, and in doing so was a trailblazer and example to us all.

I feel so fortunate to have visited with Uncle Norm over the years through camp pilgrimages, JACL conventions, and worked with him through the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium and in my first year at JANM. I will cherish each memory with Uncle Norm for the years to come, and will continue to be inspired by his legacy!”

Amy Watanabe (Managing Director, Client Services at Nakatomi and Associates)

Credit: Amy Watanabe

“Secretary Norman Mineta was truly one-of-a-kind—an inspiration and role model to so many. 

Norm inspired me to move to DC and paved the way for my career starting with JACL to APAICS and then to being part of the team to produce the documentary that would ensure his legacy would be shared for future generations to come. What I’ll remember most about Norm is that no matter who you were, Norm took the time to say hello and remember your name. He’d always ask me how my folks were and to say hi to them. The world would be a better place if we all emulated his kindness and leadership. ‘Thanks a million’ for sharing your life with all of us.”


Helen Yoshida (Communications Writer at JANM)

Heart Mountain in 2016. Credit: Helen Yoshida

“I first met Norm when I was the executive assistant to the chair at the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. From the bottom to the top, he included everyone in the conversation. I always appreciated the time he took to talk with me. I can still recall the reflections he made at the 2016 Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium meeting in Washington DC on how the sustainability of any organization relies on the next generation’s involvement. ‘Everyone has two arms,’ said Norm, raising his own arm to the air. ‘One to climb the ladder of success and one to reach down, pick someone else, and pull them up behind you.’ He inspired me to actively listen to others, appreciate the opportunities available to me, and help guide future generations.”

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JANM invites you to celebrate the extraordinary life of Norman Y. Mineta, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, on Saturday, June 25 from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. PDT.

JANM valued Secretary Mineta for his leadership and the wealth of contributions he made to the advancement of equality, justice, and liberty for all. Join us as we honor his exceptional life and legacy and his deep and abiding commitment to our community and to building a just future for coming generations.

All are welcome to attend the Celebration of Life either in person or online. JANM will open at 12 p.m. PDT on that day and admission will be free.

For more information >>

In Norm's honor, the JANM beacon will be illuminated each night for the month of June. Credit: Tori Ishikawa


© 2022 Helen Yoshida, Mia Russell

Norman Mineta