Norman Mineta, former secretary of transportation for President George W. Bush and secretary of commerce for President Bill Clinton, spoke about his experiences as a Japanese-American in politics Jack Morton Auditorium Tuesday night.
As a child, Mineta said he never imagined entering politics, but he remembered his father telling him, “Being a Japanese-American in politics is like being a nail sticking out on a board – you will always get hammered.”
Mineta was the keynote speaker for Pan-Asian Heritage Month, which included discussions, lectures and parties celebrating Asian Heritage organized by the Asian Student Alliance and the Multicultural Student Services Center.
Mineta was born in California to Japanese immigrant parents. During World War II, the family was detained in the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming. A member of Congress for 20 years, he was the only Democrat in an all-Republican Cabinet for President Bush, but he said being from California presented the greatest obstacle.
“Having a ‘D’ for Democrat after my name was not nearly as hard as residing (in) California in a Cabinet of Texans,” he said.
Between 1975 and 1995, Mineta represented the Silicon Valley area in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mineta helped pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which apologized for the injustices suffered by Japanese-Americans during World War II.
In 1995, GW awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Medal to Mineta for his contributions to civil rights.
Mineta encouraged students to always work hard and other opportunities will come as a result of this dedication. Mineta said when he was on the San Jose City Council in California, he never looked ahead to his later position of mayor of San Jose.
“If you look ahead toward one particular goal, you will often miss better opportunities right in front of you,” he said.
The event was co-sponsored by the GW College Republicans and the GW College Democrats.
“I am very excited that we were able to find such a major keynote speaker for Pan-Asian Heritage Month,” said James Zarsadiaz, president of the Asian Student Alliance. “The month-long celebration has been such a success so far as we have brought together many different groups that would have not worked together before.”
Other events planned for the month include a presentation on human trafficking, a discussion on stereotypes, the Fusion ASA Cultural Show and the Inspirational Ball.
Arben Dermaku, a visiting research scholar from the University of Prishtina in Kosovo, praised Mineta’s ability to work effectively with Republicans.
He said Mineta has an, “interesting and productive way of working with Republicans, which is a new practice for me as two political parties do not work together in my country.”