Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week, she talks with two former members of Congress, a Democrat and a Republican, whose across-the-aisle friendship originated many years earlier, when one boy—Norman Mineta—was incarcerated in Wyoming with his family in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. The other boy, Alan Simpson, was part of a local Boy Scout troop that visited the camp to have a jamboree with the scouts who were imprisoned there. Mineta and Simpson were paired up for that one day. Decades later, when they both entered politics, they reconnected; after they both were elected to Congress, they worked together to help pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The act served as the federal government's formal apology to those who were imprisoned during the war, and paid them financial reparations. Mineta and Simpson’s friendship is featured in the upcoming PBS special Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story, which airs May 20. In this interview, they discuss the atrocity that brought Mineta's family to Wyoming, their Boy Scout antics, and why they think friendships across political parties are harder than they used to be.
Norman Mineta, 87, a former Democratic representative from California (1975–95), secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton, and secretary of transportation under President George W. Bush. He now lives in Edgewater, Maryland.
Alan Simpson, 87, a former Republican senator from Wyoming (1979–97). He now lives in Cody, Wyoming.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julie Beck: Tell me a little bit about your childhoods—Senator, growing up in Wyoming, and Mr. Secretary, your childhood in San Jose, up until your family was imprisoned.
Alan Simpson: My parents lived in Cody. I was raised here. I just lived the typical boy's life, and joined the Boy Scouts. And war came in ’41.