Norman Mineta — a 10-term California congressman who later served as Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush — was remembered Tuesday as “an extraordinary leader” and “friend” by the Japanese American National Museum, for which he was chair of the board of trustees.

Mineta, 90, died Tuesday of a heart ailment at his home in Edgewater, Maryland.

“Norm helped steer and elevate JANM to national prominence,” Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the museum, said in a statement Tuesday.

“His generosity, diplomacy and love for his country helped the Asian American community and other communities of color address acts of violence from the aftermath of September 11, 2001, to the alarming rise in anti-Asian hate. He was a stalwart advocate of advancing the American ideals of equality, justice and liberty for all. Norm’s legacy will never be forgotten.”

Mineta was born in San Jose on Nov. 12, 1931, and, later, along with his family, was among the estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans put in internment camps in the United States during World War II. He and his family were initially held at Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia before being transferred to Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

“Heart Mountain taught me that we must be vigilant about upholding our democratic ideals, not vigilantes. A lifetime in public service taught me that we must work across the aisle to uphold these ideals for everyone,” Mineta said on the 2022 “Day of Remembrance” to commemorate the 80th anniversary of “Executive Order 9066.” That was President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1942 order authorizing the internments.

Mineta served 10 terms in the House of Representatives, representing San Jose from 1975 to 1995, before joining the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. He returned to government in 2000 serve as commerce secretary for the last six months of the Clinton administration — becoming the first Japanese American to hold a cabinet position.

He then served as George W. Bush’s transportation secretary from 2001 to 2006.

While in Congress, Mineta co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 — authorizing reparations and formal apologies to those interned, or their survivors. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Mineta was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — America’s highest civilian honor — in 2006. He also was awarded JANM’s Distinguished Medal of Honor in 2012.

He served as chair of the museum’s board of trustees since 2015, and had been a trustee since 1996. Previously, he served on JANM’s Board of Governors from 1988-1995 and as its chair from 2010-2015.

“Norm always said that everyone has two arms: One to climb the ladder of success and one to reach down, pick someone else, and pull them up behind you,” Burroughs said.

“He was a beacon of inspiration and support for the museum, the nation, and the world. His voice shaped national and international conversations on social justice, and his light will continue to live in all of us and inspire generations of leaders.”

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