Nobuko Saito Cleary Shares Firsthand Account of Norman Mineta Statue Unveiling at San Jose Mineta International Airport

Photo courtesy of Council Leader Nobuko Saito Cleary

I was fortunate to attend the official unveiling of the statue of the honorable Norman Mineta at San Jose Mineta International Airport (SJC) on January 25, 2024.  There were many dignitaries who spoke, and, although it was long, they all had something personal to say about Norm, which was very heartwarming.

These many speakers included San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan; State Senator Dave Cortese; Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez; Members of Congress Zoe Lofgren, Anna Eshoo and Ro Khanna; Director of Aviation at SJC John Aitken; and Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute Rod Diridon.

Following the public unveiling, I was invited to a private reception. The entertainment was very special. June Kuramoto, famous for being a part of the band Hiroshima, was the musician. 

Deni Mineta and Norm’s two sons spoke at both events and had very warm thoughts about returning him to San Jose. Norm always told me how important Hidden Villa, Japan Society and USJC were as they informed and inspired people to join together as a community, regardless of ethnicity.

Norm received the Japan Society of Northern California’s highest award, the Award of Honor in 2001, and he insisted to me to put “on Behalf of the Japanese American Community.” For him, it was very important to connect with Japanese Americans.

He used to tell me that he wanted to give a talk and would like to bring his family to Angel Island when we completed the Museum. Norm received the Immigrant Heritage Award in 2015 and Visionary Award at the AISIF Gala in 2017. His mother, Kane Mineta from Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan, was detained on Angel Island on January 20, 1914 as a picture bride before marrying his father, Kunisaku Mineta in Salinas, California. 

I served as a board member and worked hard to reconstruct the Museum. I made sure to include Japanese American history, Norm’s family history and his mother’s photo, where we found her immigration record when she entered through Angel Island. Norm was so delighted when he received her record, since he did not even know.  Also, my husband Dr. Gary W. Cleary donated his antique pharmaceutical collections to the museum. Gary and Norm were very good friends who enjoyed the same sense of humor and traveled together to several places. It is too bad we could not have an opening welcoming Norm at the Angel Island Immigration Museum (AIIM).

Photos courtesy of Council Leader Nobuko Saito Cleary

He always mentioned that his experience at Hidden Villa, Los Altos Hills was a factor in the actions he took during 9/11. He was a Secretary of Transportation under President George Bush, and he approached all his decisions with sympathy and concern for the individual. He served under President Bill Clinton as Secretary of Commerce.  He was a rare person and only the first Japanese American who served under two presidents. The cover on the program showed him receiving the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Freedom, from President Bush. He received the Duveneck Humanitarian Award in 2011 from Hidden Villa.

When you next go to the airport, please gaze at his statue. It shows him with his usual smile and with his arm at his heart. He was always proud to be from San Jose, and was that special politician – one who always worked for the people to do what was right and not what was politically smart. At the ceremony, they all said they would call him Norm, and it was very fitting, as that is who he was to everyone – and to me, a special friend.

Thank you to Council Leader Nobuko Saito Cleary (Cross Cultural Communications) for sharing this moving tribute with us and providing the above photos and content.