“We did it!” Community leaders who banded together to seek recognition of the late Norman Mineta gather in front of the newly installed plaque. From left: Glenn Osaki, Little Tokyo Business Association; Michael Truong, Chinese American Museum; Francis Cullado, Little Tokyo Community Council; Alan Kumamoto, LTCC; David Ikegami, LTBA; Ann Burroughs, Japanese American National Museum; James Okazaki, LTCC; Yukio Kawaratani, LTCC; Joanne Kumamoto, LTBA; Ellen Endo, LTBA; Chris Aihara, LTCC; Sylvia Ena, LTBA; Kristin Fukushima, LTCC. (Photo by Ambrose Leong)

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

It has been three months since the Little Tokyo-Arts District Station of the Regional Connector began operating. The report card is in, and Metro is pleased with the results.

During the Community Celebration of Metro’s new station on Saturday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis announced that ridership has increased by 20% on weekdays and 40% on weekends, according to the system’s statistics.

Solis also expressed gratitude to members of the Little Tokyo and Arts District communities for their patience and guidance during the years-long construction of the 1.9-mile light rail.

The station is dedicated to Norman Y. Mineta (1931-2022), who served as U.S. secretary of transportation from 2001 to 2006 and was chair of the House Transportation Committee in the 1990s.

“The significance of this community, Little Tokyo, and this Metro station connecting the different parts of this vast metropolitan region holds an even more important place today than ever before,” stated City Councilmember Kevin de León as he thanked Solis, Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins, and Metro board members Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky.

“L.A. has become the most diverse city on planet Earth, and Little Tokyo remains at the heart of our origin story,” De León added.

The event also marked the dedication of the station in memory of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, who along with U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye helped secure federal funding for the project.

Arts District Business Improvement District Executive Director Miguel Vargas and Deputy Consul General of Japan Naoshige Aoyama participate in the kagami-biraki ceremony.

“He was relentless,” commented Japanese American National Museum CEO Ann Burroughs, “not only in pursuing justice for his own community but in challenging this country to live up to its very highest ideals.”

Burroughs added, “As we celebrate the dedication of this station…in Norman’s honor, we have come full circle. It was a project that he envisaged decades ago and, along with the Little Tokyo community, along with local leaders, and along with national leaders. 

“He foresaw…how important it would be for Little Tokyo, how important it would be for Little Tokyo’s vibrancy and continued strength, and particularly in those years when other Japantowns around the country were under threat. For him it made such good sense as a signature element of transportation infrastructure.”

Pre-construction on the Regional Connector began in 2012.

Folklorico dancers were part of the multicultural entertainment.

The notion of dedicating the station to Mineta was raised in June 2022 by the Little Tokyo Business Association (LTBA) and championed by Solis, Metro board chair at the time. Then-Mayor Eric Garcetti co-authored the motion, which was seconded by County Supervisor Janice Hahn.

The proposal garnered support from JANM (where Mineta was chair of the Board of Trustees) and other local organizations, including the Pacific Southwest District Japanese American Citizens League, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, Chinese American Museum, Little Tokyo Legacy Foundation, Little Tokyo Community Council, and Eco-Rapid Transit.

LTBA President David Ikegami paid tribute to the late Supervisor Gloria Molina, who led the way in creating the business interruption fund that provided financial compensation for mom-and-pop businesses impacted by Metro construction activities.

Ikegami expressed the hope that the three businesses displaced by Metro construction would one day return to Little Tokyo: Weiland Brewery, Señor Fish, and Spice Table. 

The Little Tokyo Arts District station is one of three new stations that comprise the Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile light rail tunnel through Downtown Los Angeles that connects the A and E lines with the former L Line while linking Azusa to Long Beach and East L.A. to Santa Monica.

The A Line at 49.5 miles thus becomes the longest light rail line in the world, surpassing the 42-mile Coast Tram in Belgium.

Photos by ELLEN ENDO (except where noted)

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