Norman Y. Mineta, BS 53

Asian American trailblazer

Headshot of Norman Y. Mineta.

Norman Y. Mineta, a 10-term Democratic congressman from California and the first Asian American to become a federal cabinet secretary, died on May 3 at home in Edgewater, Maryland. He was 90.

Mineta, who as a child was interned with his family and thousands of other Japanese Americans during World War II, broke racial barriers for Asian Americans throughout his career. He was elected the first Japanese mayor of San Jose, California, in 1971.

Elected to Congress in 1974 and serving for nearly 21 years, he became popular with voters by supporting transportation projects and fostering public-private partnerships that created explosive growth in Silicon Valley.

His first federal cabinet position was in 2000 as secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton. Mineta was then named secretary of transportation under President George W. Bush, the only Democratic member of the Bush cabinet.

Mineta ordered the grounding of commercial flights on 9/11, and after that day, he guided the creation of the Transportation Security Administration and fought to combat racial profiling of Middle Eastern and Muslim passengers during pre-flight screenings in the U.S.

After leaving public service, Mineta became vice chairman of global public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. In his honor, San Jose’s airport was renamed Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in 2001.

In 2007, Mineta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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