Politician, Japanese internment survivor Norman Mineta honored in documentary

A native son of San Jose who was sent to a Japanese internment camp as a boy and later went on to serve in the cabinets of two U.S. presidents, a Democrat and a Republican, was honored in San Francisco.  

On Thursday night, the  Center for Asian American Media opened its film festival with the documentary "An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy." 

The 86-year-old walked the red carpet and displayed a humility that those who know him say is a familiar trait.  

"The last thing I  ever thought I  would be walking down is a red carpet of any kind," said Mineta.

Before the film was shown,  former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, on behalf of the city and county of San Francisco, presented Mineta with the Asian Pacific American Heritage Award for "Lifetime Impact." 

Before the premiere,  he spoke with a KTVU news crew about his journey in public service which spanned five decades.

"I've been fortunate to be able to live my life's dream," said Mineta. 

His life is one  shaped by challenges and defined by accomplishments,  coupled with  the desire to help fight injustices he saw and experienced.

As a boy, Mineta  was forcibly removed from his home, along with his Japanese immigrant parents and siblings to an internment camp in Wyoming  during World War II. Later as  a young man, Mineta says a couple refused to rent him an apartment. There was no bitterness, just resilience.

"I was the first non-white to become a member of the city council," said Mineta.  He served as city council member in San Jose, then mayor and then  U.S. congressman. The airport in San Jose bears his name.

"I felt very strongly that I was going to be here to represent those who had no representation or had no voice," said Mineta. 
 He  was responsible for nearly 500 bills during his two decades in congress, including the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which granted reparations and redress to Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. Mineta  co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991. In 2000, President Bill Clinton appointed Mineta as Secretary of Commerce. Then in 2001, President George W. Bush, a Republican, appointed him Secretary of Transportation, making him the sole Democrat in his cabinet.

Dianne Fukami,  the director and producer of the documentary, said Mineta's life is not  a "Japanese," but an "American" success story.

"Norm represents what can be the best in all of us: bipartisanship,  doing what's right for the country.  Doing it in a civil way," said Fukami. 

She tells KTVU  she noticed that Mineta always wears an American flag pin.  He  explained that he still needed to sometimes "prove" that he is a patriot.

"After all these years, I  still feel like I get treated like a foreigner . I'm proud to be an American," said Mineta. 
Mineta says  he hopes his legacy is one that encourages Asian Americans and other minorites to run for elected office.  He said that you have to be at the table when decisions are made to bring about change. 

 For more information on future screenings, click here.