The Mineta Legacy Project

It could have been from watching his immigrant father applying his English skills to help fellow Japanese immigrants navigate their way into the English speaking community of San Jose, California. Or it might have been his own experience as a 10-year old boy incarcerated at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming during World War II. Or perhaps it was through observing old Mr. Ishimatsu dutifully collecting money from Japanese Americans in San Jose who pooled their resources so the community could buy two tickets to the annual Democratic Central Committee fundraising dinner and another two tickets to the Republican Central Committee dinner.

It was likely all of these experiences and more that played a big part in shaping Norman Y. Mineta to become the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city, a respected 20-year leader as a member of Congress, and Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation in the Democratic and Republican presidential cabinets, respectively. And it was on Norman Mineta’s watch that 9/11 happened, air traffic was grounded, and the world changed forever.


The Mineta Legacy Project is comprised of a TV documentary for national broadcast, and an educational curriculum created for high school and college levels that will available for free on an open-source website with materials available for download that include lesson plans, teacher tools, and videos.

The documentary’s working title is All-American: The Legacy of Norman Y. Mineta that will show how Norm’s life, career, and contributions affirm timely themes of today’s state of affairs: social justice and equality; leadership and statesmanship; bipartisanship and patriotism; civic engagement and inclusion.


Norm’s family is the typical American immigrant story with a twist. Norm’s father, Kunisaku Mineta, disembarked the vessel at the wrong port from Japan to the U.S., and at age 14 took two years to work his way from Seattle, Washington to Salinas, California to meet up with an awaiting uncle. The uncle forced Kunisaku to enroll in first-grade elementary school to learn English, which would set the Mineta family apart from the outset. In his later years, Kunisaku Mineta sold insurance to Japanese Americans in the San Jose area and became the liaison between the community and the rest of the city.

Pearl Harbor and the mass removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast would play a significant role in Norm’s life, but what is less known is how a lifelong friendship that developed at Heart Mountain would later prove pivotal decades later on Capitol Hill and provide the foundation for legislative civility and bipartisanship. When imprisoned at Heart Mountain, only one Boy Scout troop would consent to visit the Japanese American scouts for a jamboree. Young Norman Mineta found himself assigned to a pup tent with future U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, which would become the basis of a decades-long friendship, united in their mutual struggle to secure passage of the Japanese American Redress and Reparations bill, even though Congressman Mineta was a liberal Democrat and Senator Simpson a staunchly conservative Republican.

Norm’s political career has been a steady but low-key advocacy for the underserved and marginalized people of this country. As a member of Congress, he authored the transportation portion of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was an early supporter of the LGBTQ community and its struggle for equal rights. Although he followed in the Congressional footsteps of Asian American pioneers Dalip Singh Saund, Daniel Inouye, Spark Matsunaga, and Patsy Mink, it was Norm Mineta who galvanized members to form the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). Similarly he also co-founded the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). He continues to be active with both organizations.

After the September 11, 2011 attacks, it was Norm’s presence in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet that compelled the president to end high-level discussion about any possibility of racial profiling people from the Mideast or Muslims with the remark, “We’re not going to do what they did to Norm and his family during World War II.”  Shortly after joining the Bush administration, Norm was able to relate his own incarceration experience during a private evening at Camp David with the president.

For his service to his country, President Bush awarded Norman Mineta the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. Yet in spite of his devotion to his country, he has never lost sight of his Japanese heritage. He visits his ancestral home in Japan annually with his wife and has become a leading connector to facilitate bilateral relationships between the U.S. and Japan, and often called upon to consult with U.S. and Japanese governmental and business executives.

Today at age 84, Norman Mineta still travels across America delivering speeches and is fond of promoting civic engagement, inspiring leadership among young people interested in public service, and challenging Americans they have no right to complain if they aren’t part of the solution.


The Mineta Legacy Project is approaching its educational component in a robust, enriching manner in that both the documentary film and educational curriculum are being developed together. Generally a documentary producer will contact a curriculum developer after the documentary is completed with a request to use the existing video to create an educational component for school use. Our team is partnering with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) at Stanford University, which has a deep history and extensive experience in curriculum development to design the educational component for high school and college students. It will be made available for free on an open-source website which will host material that can be easily downloaded or viewed. The website will be a part of the SPICE website, but also can be hosted on the websites of community partners across the United States, such as the Japanese American National Museum, the National Japanese American Historical Society, the Heart Mountain Foundation, and APAICS to name a few.

Currently SPICE is considering inclusion of the following themes that will meet secondary common core standards: immigration, civil liberties, security, leadership and decision-making, civic engagement, inequality, U.S.-Japan relations, and identity. Original material will be created for the educational component with videos and interviews specifically shot for the curriculum that may not necessarily be a part of the documentary footage.


Plans for the TV documentary include a national broadcast on PBS stations. Discussions have already been held with KQED in San Francisco and WETA in Washington, D.C. Additionally the documentary will be entered in film festivals across the U.S. and also available for community screening events where issues such as civic engagement, equality, Asian American and ethnic minority matters, governmental leadership, and bipartisanship are discussed.

SPICE has close alliances with the educational community and plans to promote the curriculum at conferences across the country. The Mineta Legacy Project community partners will be secured to promote the availability of the curriculum in their individual regions and among their networks. The budget includes maintenance and operation of the educational website for at least three years.


Production and shooting of the documentary and development of the educational curriculum will begin in Spring 2016. Planned editing of the film is scheduled for the first quarter of 2017 if sufficient funds are raised, with a release date in the 2nd quarter of 2017. The educational curriculum also is slated to be available at the same time.


The total budget for The Mineta Legacy Project is $1.2 million. $500,000 for the creation of the TV documentary, $500,000 for the educational curriculum and website, and $200,000 for marketing and distribution. 

To date the producers have raised $700,000, enough to begin production of both components, but not enough to complete the projects or the marketing and distribution. Fiscal sponsorship is being provided by Media Bridges, Inc. a 501©3 in California.