The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles has named its historic plaza after the first Asian American appointed to a Presidential Cabinet.
Commemorating the late Secretary Norman Mineta, the museum in Little Tokyo named the plaza “Norman Y. Mineta Democracy Plaza” and held a ceremony on Friday attended by his relatives, government officials and others.
Erika Moritsugu, the White House Deputy Assistant to the President, speaks at a ceremony held at a newly named plaza in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2024. (Kyodo)
Located in front of the museum, the plaza was once a site on which Americans of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from the area and incarcerated in camps for the duration of World War II.
“The plaza is hallowed ground, one of the ground zero points in the civil rights history of this country. The anchor that gives us a power of place, and the bridge that connects us to the past, the present, and future,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM President and CEO.
Erika Moritsugu, the White House Deputy Assistant to the President, delivered a message from President Joe Biden that read, “Norman Mineta was one of the finest public servants in the history of our great nation, like few others, his light will forever endure through the storied legacy he left behind.”
Born and raised in California, Mineta and his family were forcibly removed from their home in San Jose, California, and incarcerated along with 120,000 others of Japanese ancestry.
Mineta eventually returned and represented the city for over 20 years in the House of Representatives.
Among his many accomplishments as a public official, Mineta worked tirelessly to have Congress address the wartime internment of Japanese Americans.
Through his and many other people’s efforts came the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided reparations to Japanese Americans and acknowledged that they were wrongly imprisoned.
As a member of multiple Presidential Cabinets, Mineta served as commerce secretary for Bill Clinton from 2000 to 2001 and transportation secretary for George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006.
In 2006, Secretary Mineta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award. He died in 2022 aged 90.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said at the ceremony that it was symbolic and meaningful to attend and honor an American hero who fought for democracy and the preservation of history.