Former Cabinet secretary who worked for Japanese family dies at home

Former Cabinet secretary who worked for Japanese family dies at home

Cabinet secretary who had been incarcerated for his Japanese ancestry during World War II died Tuesday at his home in Maryland, his former aide said. Mineta worked to address the country's historical injustice of having forced some 120,000 Japanese Americans into wartime internment camps during his 20 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mineta was born in San Jose, California, to Japanese immigrant parents and was forced to leave their homes after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which drew the United States into war.

Mineta and his family were sent to Heart Mountain internment camp in the western state of Wyoming. Mineta was an Asian American trailblazer, first elected as San Jose mayor in 1971 and the first appointed as a Cabinet member when he became secretary of commerce, serving between 2000 and 2001.

He was transportation secretary between 2001 and 2006. He opposed racial profiling regarding airline security checks when there was talk about banning Middle Easterners and Muslims from flying in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Mineta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States in 2006, and the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese government in 2007, the highest honor to be given to foreign nationals.

According to John Flaherty, the cause of Mineta's death was a heart ailment.

My dad passed away peacefully Tuesday afternoon at his home surrounded by his family, David Mineta said in a statement provided by Flaherty.

In February of this year, the United States marked 80 years since the signing of a presidential order that led to the incarceration of the Japanese Americans.

Norman Mineta contributed to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided monetary reparations to survivors of the internment camps and an official apology to the Japanese American community.

Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, who also served as a member of the House, said he was saddened to learn of the death of one of the finest public servants of this or any generation. The 62 year-old envoy said in a statement that Norm's profound moral authority grew out of his experiences being interned with his family and other Japanese Americans during World War II.

As America's first Japanese American Cabinet official, he was a tireless advocate for equality and dignity, and a fierce opponent of bigotry and prejudice, Emanuel said.