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How he got into politics

I don’t think anyone really at an early age says, “I’m gonna be...” well, other than, I guess, kids saying, “I want to be President of the United States.” But I don’t think anyone really says, “I want to be mayor of San Jose, California.” But being—and I started in community activities within the Japanese American community through our San Jose Japanese Methodist Church and JACL, and then that sort of expanded into activities in the total majority community. And so those kinds of community activities then led me to the possibility of being appointed to the city council.

The first time I... I didn’t run for the city council. We had a mayor who was, we had our first directly elected mayor, and that created a vacancy on the city council. So the new mayor and two members of the city council came to me and said, “We’ve got to fill that vacancy on the city council. Would you consider putting your name in for it?” So I said, “Well, you know, I’m in business with my father and I really should talk to him about this.”

So anyway, I talked to my dad and he said, “Well, we can make the arrangements between how you and I conduct the business,” but he said, “In Japan there’s an old adage about, if you were in politics, you’re gonna be like the ‘nail sticking out of the board.’ And you know what happens to that nail? It always gets hammered. Now the question is, are you gonna be able to take that hammering?”

And so anyway, I thought about it and talked to a lot of friends, and I finally said, “Okay, I’ll put my name in.” And so I was appointed to the city council for the two-year unexpired term of the mayor who had vacated that post to become the new mayor.


communities governments politics

Date: July 4, 2008

Location: Colorado, US

Interviewer: Tom Ikeda

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Norman Mineta was born on November 12, 1931 in San Jose, California. He and his family were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain internment camp during World War II.

He began his political career when he was appointed to a vacant San Jose City Council seat in San Jose and was elected to the seat the following term, followed by vice mayor and then becoming Mayor of San Jose in 1971.

Mineta served in the United States House of Representatives from 1975 to 1995 and was a key figure behind the passage of H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the unconstitutional, mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

In 2000, he became the first Asian American to hold a post in the presidential cabinet when President Clinton appointed Mineta as his Secretary of Commerce. The following year, President George W. Bush appointed him Secretary of Transportation, the only Democrat in Bush's cabinet, where he served as the longest serving Secretary of Transportation since the position was created in 1967. (December 2011)

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