Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Norman Y. Mineta, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

Norman Yoshio Mineta was born in San Jose, California, in 1931 to Japanese immigrant parents who were prohibited by the Asian Exclusion Act from becoming U.S. citizens. During World War II, Mineta and his family were forced to relocate to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming along with thousands of other Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans.

Despite formidable obstacles along the way, Mineta has carved out a notable career in public service that ultimately brought him to Washington, D.C., and included serving as a longtime U.S. congressman. He also served as U.S. secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton.

When George W. Bush became president in 2001, Mineta was appointed U.S. secretary of transportation. Mineta was the 14th person and the first Asian American to hold the position. “Transportation is key to generating and enabling economic growth, determining the patterns of that growth, and determining the competitiveness of our businesses in the world economy,” stated Mineta. “Transportation is thus key to both our economic success and to our quality of life.”

As transportation secretary, Mineta also had to contend with the challenges to national security in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. On that day, he issued an unprecedented order to temporarily ground all civilian aircraft traffic in the U.S. in response to the attacks. He also oversaw the development of the newly authorized Transportation Security Administration (TSA) into a fully operational agency charged with helping to protect the traveling public in the U.S.; in 2003, TSA was transferred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Mineta served as transportation secretary until resigning in 2006. He remains the longest-serving secretary in the department’s history. Towards the end of 2006, Mineta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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