On Campus

Speakers on their experiences as Asian-Americans in politics and the media

Former United States Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta spent part of his childhood living in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Since his parents were from Japan, Mineta and his family were forced to live in internment camps designed for “all alien and non-alien people of Japanese ancestry.”

His brother’s draft card changed from 1A — fit and able to serve — to 4C, a code used for “enemy aliens.”

“That psychological warfare was being used on us,” Mineta said. “My own government wasn’t willing to call me a citizen.”

A discussion of living in internment camps, the importance of public service and the role of minorities in elections dominated The Minority Report panel Monday night in Maxwell Auditorium. The Kappa Phi Lambda sorority and Sigma Beta Rho fraternity hosted the panel with Mineta and NBC News anchor Richard Lui to discuss the role of minorities in politics and media.

Diminov Boestami, secretary of Sigma Beta Rho and a junior in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, was the moderator of the event.

In addition to serving as secretary of transportation, Mineta has also served as the mayor of San Jose as well as other roles in public office. Lui is currently an anchor at MSNBC and NBC News, and he was the first Asian-American anchor for CNN International.

Lui discussed his background as well. As a teenager in the 1980s, he would make fun of other Asian-Americans who were “fresh off the boat” from countries like Japan and China. He said that upon maturing, he was angry with his past self for being so rude and ashamed of his ethnicity, because the people he would ridicule were the contemporary version of his grandparents and other immigrants who’d migrated to the U.S.

Lui focused on past elections and their impact on the upcoming presidential election. He said the 2008 and 2012 elections were pivotal because they introduced the U.S.’s first minority president and they were the first elections propelled by social media.

“This is, when we look at modern history, is one of those key elections because now that we have moved past a minority president, what have we learned? And what will we do next based on what we’ve learned in the past eight years?” Lui said.

He added that the civil rights protests of today “remind us of the (1960s),” which he said also makes this election historic and pivotal.

Mineta explained that Asian-Americans have been consistently marginalized in elections, but said they should be considered the “margin of victory.”

“Seeing how Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States, I think he’s foreshadowing the impact that the Asian-American community can have in the future,” said Bryan Dosono, a doctoral candidate in SU’s School of Information Studies who attended the panel.

After his time in the internment camp, Mineta pursued a career in service. It began with his appointment to the city council of San Jose and continued to his appointment as secretary of transportation by former President George W. Bush.

Mineta stressed the importance of public service and suggested that minorities dedicate their time to pursuing their career goals as well as “speaking up for the unrepresented and those who don’t have a voice.”

He suggested that people pursue their interests through serving on public boards and commissions if they didn’t want to run for office. He also made it a point to illustrate the role of Asian-Americans in the uniting of the U.S.

“This country was united by Chinese immigrants working on the railroad,” Mineta said.

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