Famed civil rights attorney Dale Minami accepts the inaugural Norman Y. Mineta Lifetime Achievement Award from APAICS.

The Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) honored Minami Tamaki LLP (San Francisco) Senior Counsel Dale Minami with the inaugural Norman Y. Mineta Lifetime Achievement Award during its Virtual APAICS 27th Anniversary Awards Gala Dinner on May 13.

The award was renamed this year to reflect the outstanding contributions made by Norman Y. Mineta over a lifetime of public service. “Receiving an award named after one of my heroes is a singular honor,” said Minami.

A member of Congress for two decades, Mineta served as secretary of commerce for President Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation for President George W. Bush.

The Norman Y. Mineta Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a prominent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) individual in the community. APAICS honored Minami with the award to recognize his service in devoting a lifetime to breaking down stereotypes and advocating for the AAPI community.

Minami’s accomplishments include leading the legal team that reopened the World War II Supreme Court case of Fred Korematsu on the basis of new evidence in the 1980s. A federal judge vacated Korematsu’s conviction for refusing to go to camp and took the government to task for falsely claiming that Japanese Americans were disloyal.

“You have continuously fought for the protection of the rights of people who have historically been discriminated against,” said APAICS President and CEO Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke. “We hope to celebrate the work that you have done and continue to do.”

Dale Minami led the legal team that reopened Fred Korematsu’s World War II Supreme Court case in the 1980s.

Founded by Mineta in 1994, APAICS is a national non-partisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting Asian Pacific American participation and representation at all levels of the political process, from community service to elected office.

“In 1975, I gave my first political donation,” Minami said in his acceptance speech. “It was to a charismatic, remarkable candidate for Congress from San Jose. It was $5. I was a poor, struggling lawyer and it was all I could afford. But I knew that this man was somebody special, and of course it was Norm Mineta.

“Over the years I watched his trajectory, and I was never so proud than when I saw him on C-SPAN, arguing passionately to Congress for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans. And it wasn’t just a battle for Japanese Americans, it was a battle for the Constitution itself. What was remarkable to me was not just the great speech he gave, but the fact that he was a fledgling congressman and his constituency was not Japanese American or Asian American.

“So he essentially risked his career for taking a stand. We’ve seen that over and over, of course. One example was when he fought for Vietnamese fishermen to lift a ban on their fishing which was imposed for simply racist reasons. And he literally ran across the halls of Congress to file this before the deadline with the clerk. Out of breath, he was able to get this filed, get it passed, and he was able to help this other marginalized group.

“Of course we remember the shining moment as secretary of transportation when he ordered the planes grounded. But as significantly, he stood up and said to the American public … that discrimination against Muslim and Arab Americans has no place in this country.

“This was the path that he blazed with inspired commitment, compassion, honesty, integrity, and allowed others who are now Asian Pacific American legislators to start making their mark, and they already have. They’re representing us like Norm represented us before.

“So I want to thank APAICS. I got this award in the mail last month, and my first thought was that this is beautiful, very elegant. My second thought was that this is where treasonists, insurrectionists tried to overthrow our democracy, this very place, and the fragility of democracy is a lesson we should all learn.

“Finally, I saw that this is the Norman Y. Mineta Lifetime Achievement Award, and my name is below that. To be associated with Norman Y. Mineta … is something really special to me.”

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