14 January 2022
JFK Profiles In Courage Essay Contest
The Courage That Stems From Our Experiences
On September 17th, 1987, Congressman Norman Mineta chaired the house discussion for the passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1987. It sought to right the wrongs that he and over 120,000 other Japanese Americans endured while interned during World War II (Qureshi). In the winter of 1942, a ten year old Mineta dressed in his Cub Scout uniform was sent off to Santa Anita Racetrack, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. “That’s why, to this day, I always tell people I cherish the word citizen because my own government ... wasn’t willing to use that word to describe us,” reminisced Mineta, a San Jose native, describing the uncertainty and apprehension of being treated like an outsider because “we looked like the people who attacked Pearl Harbor. That was the only thing that we were guilty of — looking like the enemy” (Fuchs).
There he and his family would stay, surrounded by barbed wire fencing and armed military guards, for over three years. And yet, the crushing effects of internment plagued Japanese Americans for long afterwards- the majority left with no property or jobs, and their assets were largely dissolved during their removal (Wright). This created a myriad of problems, with the Japanese population not only stuck “with a sense of shame and guilt, of having been considered betrayers of our country” but also without any form of financial security or reparation (Qureshi). Early attempts at redressal failed to address the pressing concerns of Japanese Americans; their urgings finally reached fruition a decade later, with the help of Mineta, San Jose mayor turned Congressman.
As John F. Kennedy wrote in Profiles in Courage, “Great crises produce great men, and great deeds of courage” (Kennedy). The accomplishments of Mineta’s career came from the hardships that he and his family, along with countless others, unlawfully endured. Having an unorthodoxly strong stance on equality and against racial-profiling was against the norm for those in the government, as Kennedy knowingly wrote. Many wanted power and adoration, and forsook their personal convictions as a result, while Mineta let his unique experience pioneer an uncharted path.
The Civil Liberties Act of 1987 provided 20,000 dollars to each living victim of the incarceration camps, and declared a formal apology for the injustice, furthering that it was motivated by “racial prejudice, war hysteria, and the failure of political leadership” (Cong. 1987). For years, Mineta had worked with other Japanese American members in the government, first forming the National Council for Japanese American Redress, which was ultimately vetoed in court. From there, the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations’ efforts culminated in a hearing, with the same purpose that Mineta had been striving for for so many years (Yoshida). They proposed the very bill that would be signed into law by President Reagan just a few years later, with Mineta at the forefront. In his own words, “...the Japanese American community, they shouldered the yoke of the evacuation and internment in 1942… that yoke was finally lifted…” (Yoshida).
But the signing of this monumental bill, which Mineta claims as one of his greatest honors, was just the start of his feats while in office. While nearing the end of his final stint in office in 2000, Mineta became the first Asian American appointed to the Cabinet, as commerce secretary. He was then confirmed as transportation secretary for President Bush, where he would once again advocate unflinchingly for the civil liberties of the underrepresented. By gaining a 100-0 Senate vote, Mineta demonstrated that the courage of one’s convictions could overcome partisan divides.
Kennedy furthered that, “The stories of past courage can define that ingredient—they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration” (Kennedy). And it’s Mineta’s own stories that he shared with Bush while serving in the Cabinet that stopped history from repeating itself. Discrimination via the government affected Mineta’s own life deeply, and was a reminder of what he stood for; although his strong opposition against discrimination was at times met with resistance, Mineta held on firmly to them throughout his career. Following the tragic events of 9/11, many were inclined to wholly ban Muslim Americans from flying planes, going as far as discussing rounding up the Muslim population (Fuchs). But just months earlier, Mineta recounted his childhood in internment to Bush, which would prove to change Bush’s opinion on the rhetoric for Muslim Americans following the devastation. On September 13th, in Mineta’s own words, in response to the “hue and cry” Bush said, “... we want to make sure that what happened to Norm in 1942 doesn’t happen today” (Martin).
Because the majority of Mineta’s contemporaries and the media were keen to racially profile the Muslim community, Bush’s contradictory stance was a rarity, and he advocated alongside Mineta in opposition to racial-profiling (Morrison). Some in the media opposed Mineta’s strictures against racial prejudice, including rules for searches on all types of airplane passengers, and not just those deemed as “culprits” (Martin). Like Kennedy attests, “Americans want to be liked – and Senators are no exception...... we [Senators] are anxious to get along with our fellow legislators… to abide by clubhouse rules and patterns“ (Kennedy). But Mineta did not let his dissenters stop him. Many disagreed with his standpoint, and thought that the Muslims in America were to blame for 9/11, but Mineta continued championing non-discriminatory policies nevertheless. He believed that taking bold action on important issues, and being a voice for the vulnerable, was sparsely exhibited in politics (Waxman). His unique perspective that stemmed from the historic events of 1942 gave Mineta the opportunity to change how society looked at immigrants.
In today’s world, a voice for the underrepresented holds immense power. Norman Mineta’s story remained untold for years, and finally voicing it throughout America with the Civil Liberties Act of 1987 was an unparalleled step forward. Not only as the first Asian American to break boundaries throughout American politics, but as one that let the hardships of his past shape America’s future, Mineta is a groundbreaking figure in history. As Kennedy once brilliantly stated, courage can only be found by a person delving into their soul. During Mineta’s long and thriving career, he did just that.
Fuchs, Chris. “Norman Mineta's American Story Helped the U.S. Apologize for Incarceration and Lead after 9/11.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 14 May 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/norman-mineta-s-american-story-helped-u-s-apologize-incarceration-n1005406.
Morrison, Patt. “Norman Mineta on Internment, 9/11 and a Life Spent in the Vortex of American Politics.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 8 May 2019, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-ol-patt-morrison-norman-mineta-politics-20190508-htmlstory.html.
Qureshi, Bilal. “From Wrong to Right: A U.S. Apology for Japanese Internment.” NPR, NPR, 9 Aug. 2013, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/09/210138278/japanese-internment-redress.
Wright, Steven. “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988.” Untitled Document, https://www.dartmouth.edu/~hist32/History/S06%20-%20Civil%20Liberties%20Act%20of%201988.htm.
Congressman Norman Mineta. Personal interview. 16 July. 2008.
Civil Liberties Act of 1987, H.R. 442, 100th Cong. (1987)
Yoshida, Helen. “Redress and Reparations for Japanese American Incarceration: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/redress-and-reparations-japanese-american-incarceration.
Kennedy, John (1955). Profiles in Courage. Harper and Brothers.
AamBoli.com. “Profiles in Courage Quotes.” English Hindi Meaning Dictionary and Translation, https://www.aamboli.com/quotes/book/profiles-in-courage.
“Profiles in Courage Quotes.” The 20 Best Profiles in Courage Quotes, https://bookroo.com/quotes/profiles-in-courage.
“Profiles in Courage Excerpts.” Profiles in Courage Excerpts | JFK Library, https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/education/profile-in-courage-essay-contest/teacher-information-and-curriculum-ideas/curriculum-appendix-2.
Waxman, Olivia B. “Norman Mineta on Japanese Internment, How Congress Changed.” Time, Time, 20 May 2019, https://time.com/5588532/norman-mineta-history/.