Former Transportation and Commerce Secretary
Born in 1931 to immigrant Japanese parents in San Jose, Calif., Mineta and his family were detained along with 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent at an internment camp during World War II.
Mineta’s career in politics began with an appointment to a vacant seat on the San Jose City Council in 1967; two years later he won the seat in his own right. In 1971, he was elected mayor of San Jose, becoming the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city.
As a member of Congress from 1975 through 1995, Mineta co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and engineered the passage of H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988—an official government apology for the internment of those of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton appointed Mineta secretary of commerce, making him the first Asian Pacific American to hold a Cabinet post.
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him secretary of transportation, making him the only Democrat in Bush’s Cabinet and one of the few citizens ever to serve in the Cabinet of both a Democratic and Republican President.
During the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, Mineta issued the historic order to ground all civilian aircraft, the first time this had been done in U.S. history.
Mineta retired from his Cabinet post in 2006 and in that same year was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Mineta also served on the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents from 1979 through 1995 and supported the establishment of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American program in 1997. Currently, he is vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton, a leading global communications consultancy.
(Source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. June 2010 )