Immigrants are a foundational part of America. The country as we know it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the millions of people from around the world traveling from every conceivable country by boat, plane, train or foot, who have journeyed here and decided to call this place “home.”
Over the last decade, and more specifically, from the moment President Trump began his presidential campaign, immigration has become a hot-button political issue. In light of the controversy now surrounding the issue, we’ve rounded up 15 celebrities who’ve immigrated to America. They’ve become some of the most well-recognized faces in the country, and can be counted as shining examples of why we should continue to welcome those who want to call this country home.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s has some of the most instantly recognizable images in all of cinematic history. There’s not a single college dorm room in this country that hasn’t had a poster of Audrey Hepburn in her simple black dress, elegant up-do, and glitzy jewelry hanging on its walls at one point or another. But few of those movie-lovers know that their icon isn’t actually native to America. Audrey was born in Brussels, Belgium to a Bohemian father and an Austrian mother. At the start of World War II, the family moved to the Netherlands, and after enduring occupation there for five brutally long years, they moved to London and then to America as soon as they were liberated in order to start again.
Mila Kunis found fame as a 14-year-old when she took a starring role on That ‘70s Show. Seven years before that, she moved to America. Born in Chernivisti, part of the Ukrainian SSR (back when the Soviet Union still existed), Mila’s family was actually pretty well off. Her father was a mechanical engineer and her mother was a physics teacher, and Mila’s described their situation in the often-brutal socialist state as a “very lucky” one. But the Kunis family saw no future there for Mila and her brother, and were worried about the general anti-Semitism attitude of their native country. So, in 1991, they moved to L.A. with $250 and the rest is history.
Fashion designer Jason Wu became a household name after he began frequently designing dresses for former First Lady Michelle Obama, including the ones she wore during the first and second inauguration. Wu was actually born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada when he was nine-years-old. He moved to America during his high school years, and attended schools in both Massachusetts and Connecticut before enrolling at the Parsons School of Design in NYC. (Fun fact, Wu never actually graduated!) Today, he runs his own label and acted as the creative director at Hugo Boss from 2013 – 2018.
Rihanna was born in Saint Michael, Barbados. She was raised in a three-bedroom bungalow with her brothers Rorrey and Rajad, and often went with her father to sell clothes in a stall on the street. Things weren’t always easy, breezy for the singer — her father was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and her parents fought frequently — but her passion for music and her incredible voice always seemed like the way out. In 2003, she formed a musical group with two of her classmates and was discovered by an American music agent. In 2005, she auditioned for Def Jam (aka Jay-Z and L.A. Reid), and the rest is literally history. “Pon de Replay” was a massive hit, and RiRi owns mansions in Hollywood Hills and Barbados with dual citizenship in both countries.
Gloria Estefan is one of those internationally-known celebrities whose careers are just mind-blowing. She’s literally won every award and accolade out there, has sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, and is on the Billboard Top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. And while she calls America her home, she’s actually a native Cuban. Born in Havana, her father was a Cuban soldier and part of the escort that protected the wife of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Following the Cuban Revolution, her family moved to Miami, Florida. Her father joined the army and her mother became a schoolteacher. In 1974, Gloria became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Ariana Huffington is one of the richest women in the world, and we could all stand to take a page out of her book. Born in Athens, Greece, Ariana is the offspring of a talented family of journalists (her father was well-known in Greece as well). She first moved to the UK when she was 16 in order to attend university at Girton College in Cambridge. In 1990, four years after marrying her ex-husband, Michael Huffington, she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In 2005, she helped found The Huffington Post, and in 2011, she sold it to AOL for a cool $315 million.
The Dave Matthews Band is one of those groups people either love or love to hate. One thing that the haters (and often the lovers) don’t know about the “So Much to Say” singer is that he’s actually a native of South Africa. Born in Johannesburg, the Matthews family moved to upstate New York when Dave Matthews was only two-years-old. They returned to Johannesburg less than ten years later after his father died. Dave graduated high school across the Atlantic in 1985, when he was then faced with conscription into the South African military. A strict Quaker at the time, he left the country in order to avoid being in a situation that conflicted with his religious beliefs. And in 1991, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Dave Matthews Band was born.
Nicki Minaj was born in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago to two gospel-singing parents. Until she was five, she was raised there by her grandmother while her mother attended Monroe College in the Bronx, New York City. After graduating, Nicki’s mother moved her to Queens, where the “Roman’s Revenge” rapper was raised and where she eventually attended LaGuardia High School. A one-time undocumented immigrant herself, Nicki has often spoken out on Twitter and Instagram in protest against the immigration policies set in place by the Trump administration. We love seeing someone who endured a very similar situation and found such incredible success speak out against policies that are no good.
M. Night Shyamalan
Famed director M. Night Shyamalan was born in Mahe. Mahe is a small town in the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry. Both of his parents were doctors who immigrated here when their son was six weeks old in order to pursue career opportunities and provide a better quality of life for their newborn. Shyamalan expressed an early desire to become a filmmaker after being gifted a Super 8 camera, and as each of his films has come out on DVD (beginning with The Sixth Sense), they’ve included a scene from one of the 45 home movies he made as a child. Shyamalan eventually attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he honed his talent as a filmmaker and met his wife, Bhavna Vaswani.
Salma Hayek was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico to a Lebanese father and a Spanish mother. She was raised in the country and even attended university in Mexico City, but when she first came to America to pursue an acting career, she was undocumented. She told V Magazine Spain, that it was a “short but tough” time, and that she faced a lot of racism in the beginning, saying “It was inconceivable to American directors and producers that a Mexican woman could have a lead role.”
Salma has been sharply critical of the immigration issues that have plagued our country over the last few years, saying, “Of all these things that are going on, what surprises me the most is the lack of humanity with which immigrants are being treated. What saddens me is how the United States — which has always been considered a global hero that helps other countries — doesn’t help people from other lands who come to their country; that is contradictory.”
Iconic fashion model, Iman was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father was a diplomat and a Somali ambassador to Saudi Arabia. When she was four, Iman was sent to a boarding school in Egypt, where she remained for many years. When rumors of political unrest started swirling in Somalia, Iman moved back to her native country for a brief period before the entire family relocated to Kenya. She then went on to study at the University of Nairobi, where she was discovered by an American photographer. A year after she moved to America to pursue a modeling career, she landed the cover of Vogue, which essentially officially launched her career as a supermodel.
Actress Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem to Jewish parents. Her parents met at Ohio State University while they were pursuing their undergraduate degrees, and remained in touch when her father returned to his native Israel. The couple married in Israel and remained there until Natalie was three years old. They then moved to America so that her father could pursue his medical degree. Natalie inherited some of that scientific mindset and co-authored two research papers that were printed in scientific journals while she was a high school student. The Harvard graduate has continued to pursue higher education while simultaneously churning out blockbuster after blockbuster. Impressive!
Elon Musk is one of the richest men in the world and is probably smarter than anyone you know. He’s also an immigrant. Born in Pretoria, South Africa, the Telsa Inc. founder lived with his father in the suburbs of South Africa until he graduated high school. Just before his 18th birthday, Elon moved to Canada to live with his mother (who was born there) and obtained citizenship through her. He attended university at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, for two years, before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated with two bachelors degrees. After that, he moved to California, where he began a Ph.D., only to leave the program after two days in order to pursue his own growing companies. In 2002, he became a U.S. Citizen.
Jim Carrey has had a decades-long career as a stand up comedian and actor. He was born in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, where he first discovered his love of impressions and performing. His father used to drive him to Toronto, so he could perform his first act at comedy clubs. It was eventually noticed by fellow comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who signed Carrey and brought him to Las Vegas to be his opener. Eventually, Carrey decided to step out on his own in Hollywood, and the rest is history. In 2004, Carrey became a dual-citizen of Canada and the U.S..
“Havana” singer, Camila Cabello was actually born in a borough of the Cuban city she sings about: a place called Cojimar. Her father was a Mexican immigrant to Cuba and her mother was a native Cuban. She spent her early years moving back and forth between Mexico City and Cuba before the family permanently settled in Miami, Florida, a place with a very large Cuban immigrant community, when she was five-years-old. In 2008, four years before the X-Factor audition that would help her become a part of the girl group Fifth Harmony, Camila became a U.S. citizen. She’s since quit the band and released a successful solo album, but Camila hasn’t forgotten her roots. This starlet still engages in a lot of philanthropic efforts to help other immigrants find their way in America.