In the current American political climate, the words “immigrant” and “refugee” seem to be coming from every news station at every angle.
An immigrant is defined as a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country, while a refugee is an individual who has escaped their home nation for their safety–because of war, natural disaster or prosecution.
Despite the struggles of relocating to a new nation, both immigrants and refugees have made great contributions to the United States. We decided to check out some celebrities who made the trip to America who you may not have known were immigrants or refugees.
The actress, best known for her roles as Jackie on That ’70s Show and Odile in Black Swan, arrived in Los Angeles in 1991 at the age of eight. She and her family entered the nation on a religious refugee visa after facing prosecution for their Jewish faith in the Ukrainian SSR. “After the Holocaust, in Russia, you were not allowed to be religious,” Kunis told The Sun in 2012, “so my parents raised me to know I was Jewish. You know who you are inside.”
The actress, producer, and model moved to Los Angeles from Mexico in 1991 to study acting. She overstayed her US visa and was undocumented for a period of time before getting her green card. Hayek became a US citizen in 2013. “I have tried my whole life to represent my Mexican roots with honor and pride,” Hayek said.
The world’s first black supermodel and widow of David Bowie forever changed the modeling and fashion industry with her striking look. As a child, she attended boarding school in Egypt, however, when a coup in Somalia upended the government and threatened her family, they fled to Kenya. Iman later relocated to the United States.
The actor best known for his comic work was born in Ontario, Canada and became an American citizen in 2004 to vote in American elections. Carrey also kept in Canadian citizenship and said he has “no intention of giving up my Canadian heritage and all those who loved and supported me.”
The best-selling international singer-songwriter is best known for her hit “Turn the Beat Around.” She and her family fled to Florida from Cuba after the Bay of Pigs Invasion–where Estefan’s father joined the American army. Estefan currently has four Grammys, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and is a 2017 Kennedy Center Honoree.
Considered a California sex symbol since her role on “Baywatch”–Anderson is actually originally from British Columbia, Canada. She became a US citizen in 2004 and told Esquire, “people say I’m the ultimate California girl, which is funny, being that I’m Canadian.”
M. Night Shyamalan
The director famed for films including The Sixth Sense, Split and The Happening immigrated to American from India when he was six years old and was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He added “Night” to his name when he applied for US citizenship at the age of 18. After graduating from New York University’s film school, Shyamalan made a film called “Prayer with Anger” about an American’s spiritual journey to India. The film won an award at the American Film Institute and landed him an agent.
The first female United States Secretary of State and highest ranking woman in the history of the United States was brought to England as an infant in 1938 after her family was forced to flee Czechoslovakia due to links to politicians who opposed Adolf Hitler. After the war, Albright moved to New York and has called the US her home ever since.
Portman was born in Isreal and moved to Washington DC when she was three years old. The Jackie actress and Harvard graduate holds dual American and Israeli citizenship. Portman made her 2015 directorial debut with “A Tale of Love and Darkness”–a Hebrew film based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Israeli author Amos Oz.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the lead singer and songwriter of the Dave Matthews Band immigrated to the suburbs of New York City when he was a toddler. He then moved to England, back to New York and South Africa before settling in Virginia and obtaining US citizenship at the age of 11. The best-selling artist is an outspoken supporter of gay rights and environmental initiatives.
Originally from Ireland, Neeson immigrated to the United States in the late ’80s and became a citizen in 2009. The actor and Academy Award nominee has also stayed close to his Irish roots as he was honored by the Irish Film and Television Academy in 2016 with Irish President Michael D. Higgins presenting the award. Additionally, Neeson narrated Ireland’s bid video to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The rapper who rose to fame in 2010 when a Coca-Cola used his song “Wavin’ Flag” in a FIFA World Cup centered campaign. The song was inspired by his experience in Somali and his hope for the people still living in violence. K’Naan lived in the New York after escaping the Somali civil war when he was 13.
Theron first moved to the US from South Africa to work as a model in New York City. In 2007 she became an American citizen to be able to vote as well as travel internationally more easily. “It’s nice to feel like I’m actually really home here,” said Theron of becoming a citizen. The Mad Max: Fury Road actress is also the founder of The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to fight against HIV/AIDS.