By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“I am so proud to be your son.”
David Mineta was one of several people who spoke at a memorial service for his late father—Norman Y. Mineta.
The first Asian American to hold a Cabinet position, Mineta died on May 3 at age 90.
“To be sure, living a public life has not always been easy for our family… there were some tough years but as I’ve grown older, I cherish being Norm’s son,” said David.
At the June 11 service in Washington, D.C.—the first of three memorials for the former Transportation Secretary—Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him the “patriarch” of the Asian American community, a trailblazer and mentor for a generation of AAPI public servants.
“I was humbled to partake in this special memorial,” said Elaine Ikoma Ko, who traveled from Seattle for the service, along with former Uwajimaya CEO Tomio Moriguchi. Ko said, “I was overcome with a sense of respect and gratitude for this humble man. His accomplishments and contributions to this country makes him equal to the greatest American leaders of all times.”
Civil rights advocate Karen Narasaki worked with Mineta while he served as Secretary of Commerce, and then Transportation.
“Secretary Mineta was an accomplished law maker and civil rights leader. He taught all of us how much could be achieved when one does not care who gets the credit.”
Narasaki also credited him for creating the current infrastructure of national AAPI advocacy and leadership building.
“At a time when he would joke there were so few APA members they could meet in a telephone booth, he worked to create the Congressional APA Caucus that includes members of Congress who are not APA but have 5% or more in their district.”
Narasaki added, “Many AANHPIs who are elected officials, presidential appointees, congressional or agency staff today, owe their opportunities to the institutions he pushed to be created.”
Beyond his life of public service and resume, all those who paid tribute spoke of Mineta’s kindness.
“Dad loved family,” said Stuart Mineta. “He loved the sense of togetherness and closeness that family provided … and Dad extended that idea of closeness to beyond just our family.”
He recalled fondly a time when the elder Mineta blocked off an afternoon off his busy schedule “to take me to a go kart track and arcade.”
Stuart said, “Dad took more than a roll of pictures of me going around a track in a go-kart over and over again, and then took another roll of me playing video games in the arcade.”
Attendees laughed as David detailed how Norm “was a kind father with a sometimes bad sense of humor.” He recalled the time when he was confirmed for a position at the White House drug policy office.
“One day, I invited [Dad] to the White House mess for lunch,” said David. “I was pretty proud of myself that I could share that special privilege with him. But it turned into another life lesson of ‘humility 101 with Norm.’ ‘Hi, Mr. Secretary! Norm, good to see you! Who are these people?’ It felt like he worked at the White House and he was taking ME to lunch!”
David continued, “It actually got to be fairly annoying. As he walked out of the White House that day, I think he knew that I was annoyed because he had that little twinkle of mischief in his eyes… it was a half sorry and a half ‘hee hee hee’ look.”
“He was polite, courteous, humble, helpful, a servant to others, and, most importantly, loving,” said Stuart. “Thank you for setting that example of that life well-lived for us. I really, really miss you.”
“I hope that I will be able to live out my life living up to the example you set for us,” said David. “I will try to be a positive influence in my community trying to make it better than when I found it, while being the best husband and father that I can be.”
Former President Bill Clinton was set to speak at a June 16 memorial for Mineta in San Jose. There will also be a June 25 celebration at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
Ruth can be reached at email@example.com.