People Who Move People: The Ladder of Success, Profile of Norm Mineta

Form Secretary, Norm Mineta
Former Secretary, Norm Mineta

People Who Move People: A series initiated and funded by RouteMatch

The former Secretary of Transportation, whose parents were first-generation Japanese immigrants known as issei, is telling me the story of his family’s internment. We are sitting at the kitchen table in his home in Edgewater, Maryland. Talking about the searchlights he waves his hand over the table back and forth, as if petting an imaginary cat. “To this day I still think about that,” he says, looking out the window to the South River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

He calls the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 “the seminal moment of my life.” His family had just returned from Sunday’s church service to their home in San Jose, California, when they heard about the attack. Their phone was ringing off the hook. Rumor was that the American government was going to arrest all the isseis. Norm’s father was a prominent insurance salesman, a well-liked businessman, and community leader. Neighbors were worried that the Minetas might get confused with the enemy. “It was the first time I ever saw my father cry,” recalls Norm. “He said, ‘I can’t understand why the land of my birth attacked the land of my heart.’”

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, delegating to the Secretary of War the power to evacuate and intern people who might threaten American security. In California, Oregon, and Washington, the American government rounded up 120,000 people of Japanese descent and shipped them to internment camps for the duration of World War II. On May 29, 1942, Norm’s family had to leave their home.

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