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Remarks by Hon. Norman Mineta at the 2007 Annual Dinner
Hon. Norman Mineta Remarks by Hon. Norman Mineta at the 2007 Annual Dinner
February 8, 2007

"What I want to know is, what about you?
Are you where you need to be?"

   Thanks, Judge [Kiyo] Matsumoto, for those very kind words.   And thanks to all of you for that energetic welcome.   Is it OK if we do this again tomorrow night?
    Pretty please?

    I’d like to kick things off with a pat on the back to the association’s new leadership.   You have the trust and responsibility of a young and vibrant community resting on your shoulders.   Go do them proud.
    To President Vincent Chang, well, Vince, you’ve got some mighty big shoes to fill now that Lai Sun’s moving on.  But I have no doubt the association’s in good hands.

    What an array of talent we’ve got out there … judges, attorneys -- public and private -- law students and seasoned vets.   Deni and I are thrilled to be running into some of you again, and meeting others for the very first time.
    You know, this reminds me of an old Japanese saying – “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.”
    That especially holds true tonight.   If anyone needs to know what makes Norm Mineta tick, I’ll just point to all of you, OK?

    Many of you have been kind enough to ask how life’s going, now that I’m no longer in the President’s inner circle.
    Well, it’s been quite an adjustment, to be honest.
    The bodyguards are gone, the black limo with the tinted windows is history, and I got stuck with a lousy seat for the State of the Union.

    But all in all, I couldn’t be happier with the way things are playing out.   I’m right where I need to be.
    What I want to know is, what about you?  Are you where you need to be?  That’s a question you should be asking yourselves.
    We’re all for diversity.   Diversity in the board room … the partners’ suite … and the court room.   But what are you doing to get it?  It’s not going to just come out of thin air.
    Involvement is what it’s all about, and that starts and ends right here … with the Asian American Bar of New York.   Ask yourself -- How can we get the thousands of Asian American attorneys in New York to become active members in the association?
    They have tons of committees … litigation, corporate counsel, women’s, student outreach, pro-bono and judicial affairs.  There’s something out there for everyone.
    You say you want to make a difference, but take my advice – it’s not going to happen if you’re sitting on the sidelines.   Get involved.   Start sowing the seeds now.
    It takes decades to get to the top of the legal profession.   That might explain why only six of the nearly 850 federal judges are Asian American.   In California, where I was born, they have only two Asian American appellate court judges out of 100.
    This is a state, mind you, where more than 12 percent of the population is Asian.  They say that justice is blind, but we can’t turn a blind eye to this very serious problem.
    The way the system works, judges typically come out of the pool of litigators – lawyers in the courtroom.
    And there is this stereotype that Asians are passive and meek.   Funny, but Denny Chin must have not gotten that memo.  Neither did Margaret Chan … Karen Lin … or Leslie Purificacion.
    Congratulations to our recently installed jurists.     I bet they look great in black robes.
    We need more leaders like them.  We Asian Americans would also do well by being more politically active.   Lawyers are in a great position to make things happen, because the law is such an important part of politics.
    Fact is, we’re not very involved with the political system, and when we are, we don’t always feel comfortable about it.
    That was exactly the case when I decided to run for office in my hometown of San Jose.  My father was very concerned.
    The idea of putting oneself in a position of public visibility was not something that he was used to,   or something with which he was comfortable.
    He told me of the Japanese adage that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.   I imagine that many of you have run into the same reaction, or had similar feelings.
    Those are exactly the kinds of fears and apprehensions that we need to counter, especially among our young people.
    Now I was fortunate.   I had help along the way.    I know that I wouldn’t be where I am were it not for the mentors who molded me into who I am.
    One of them was the late Congresswoman, Patsy Mink.  She was the first woman of color to be elected to national office.  
    When I was considering running for Congress, Patsy was one of the first to step forward and encourage me.   And, from the day that I arrived in Washington, D.C., she was there -- a senior member of the House taking this freshman in hand, showing me the ropes.
    Patsy’s gone now. So is Pat Morita … and another good friend, Bob Matsui.   Many of our leaders are getting up there in age.   I know that I won’t be around forever.
    So the question is, who among you is going to step up?   Who’s going to fill the void?
    The answer can be found in the old Japanese legend … the one about two villages separated by a river.
    You see, on moonlit nights a man from one town would come out and sing.
    His voice would resound farther and farther, floating out across the river until it reached the other town.   Meanwhile, the people of the second town decided that they had someone who could do better.
    And when the original singer heard him, he realized he was faced with a strong rival, so he sang even louder. Pretty soon, all the villagers were joining in.  Oh, the music they made together.  They had no idea they could sound so good.
    The point is, by joining forces, everyone found depths to their talent that they didn’t even know were there.   Well … you and I are like those singers, so let’s band together and let our talents rise.

    Thank you, again, for having me. This is a moment I’ll treasure always.