On January 26, 2024, JANM ushered in a new era for its campus by naming its plaza after the late JANM Board of Trustees Chair and Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and hosting the namesake distinguished lecture at the Daniel K. Inouye National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Democracy Center). On Friday afternoon, guests gathered at the Museum to witness the unveiling of the new sign as the sun began to set behind the buildings of Little Tokyo and downtown LA. The Norman Y. Mineta Democracy Plaza connects the Museum’s Pavilion, Historic Building, and Democracy Center together. It’s a place that creates a sense of transparency and access between all buildings on campus and is a reminder that democracy is shaped through the involvement and engagement of individuals.
“We all feel Norm’s presence here. This is hallowed ground, a place where American families were taken to concentration camps,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM President and CEO. She described how Mineta used his imprisonment experiences at the Santa Anita temporary detention center (about fifteen miles away from the Museum) and the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming to lead the US in Congress and the White House. “Few better understand that this union could be more perfect than Norm and few worked as hard to make it so.”
“Norm lived his life for the democracy of his country,” said Deni Mineta, widow of the late Secretary. “It is important for the community at large to understand these lessons and pass them on. I see memories, love, and compassion, and I am so grateful that you’re here.”
Mayor Karen Bass described her mother’s experience of seeing her classmates’ empty chairs when she was going to school in Los Angeles and emphasized the importance of acknowledging the darker periods of US history to create a more inclusive democracy. “This is our shared history of folks of color,” she said. LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis added, “He’s a beacon of hope for us, and a reminder for why we’ve been fighting for all voices around the world.”
The newly named plaza brings Mineta’s values and vision for democracy to new generations and reflects the evolution of the Japanese American community. His extraordinary legacy, lifelong commitment to democracy, and profound impact on the Museum was also recognized with the inaugural Norman Y. Mineta Distinguished Lecture Friday evening. The lecture is a signature series of the Democracy Center focusing on Mineta’s leadership values and principles, including his commitment to public service, social justice, and strengthening US-Japan relations.
Mitch Landrieu, former senior advisor to the President and former mayor of New Orleans, was the special guest speaker. From 2010–2018 he served as the 61st Mayor while New Orleans was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and in the midst of the BP oil spill. Similar to Mineta, Landrieu’s father, Moon, championed integration while serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives, as mayor of New Orleans, and as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter. Throughout Moon’s time in office, the Landrieus and Minetas became friends. Like them, Landrieu also dedicated his life to public service. His speech and subsequent conversation with Mineta’s son and JANM Board of Governors member David Mineta discussed their fathers’ friendship, the power of the vote, and why it is important to fight for democracy every day.
“Our fight today starts by reclaiming our democracy and continuing to uplift our ideals in this country. We cannot allow our history to be erased. We cannot shrug our shoulders at the past,” said Landrieu. “When so much has pulled us apart, we must work together to answer the question: Who are we? This is a time for us to come together as patriots. Every generation in America has faced a moment where they had to defend democracy. This is ours. Do not close your eyes to what is happening around you. Do not think for a moment that the fight for democracy is over there. It’s happening right here.”
Photos by Mike Palma