Each year, June 20 is just another day for the average person; for many, however, it symbolizes the struggles of past and present refugees fleeing their homes for better, safer lives. World Refugee Day is a time when many reflect on how far they have come since leaving their home countries, whether they are blue-collar workers or famous names. Here are the experiences of four celebrities who were refugees before they were stars.
Four Celebrities Who Were Refugees
- Gloria Estefan
World-famous singer, Gloria Estefan, was born in Havana, Cuba. She and her family fled the country in 1960, after the Cuban Revolution. After landing in Florida, Estefan’s father joined the American army and took part in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Estefan was granted citizenship in 1974 and joined the band Miami Sound Machine, which was the beginning of her legendary career. Currently, Estefan has seven Grammys.
- Mila Kunis
Kunis, well-known for her role on That ‘70s Show and as the voice of Meg on Family Guy, was born and raised for the first seven years of her life in Ukraine. After facing years of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, the family was granted a religious-refugee visa and fled to the United States in 1991, settling in Los Angeles, California.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kunis reflected on her experience: “It was right at the fall [of the Soviet Union]. It was very communist, and my parents wanted my brother and me to have a future, and so they just dropped everything. They came with $250.” She describes her initial experience of living in the U.S. as “like being blind and deaf at age 7” because of the extreme culture shock she faced. Kunis, like other celebrities with similar experiences, is now a staunch advocate for refugees and has criticized the Trump administration’s actions surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis.
Rapper M.I.A. was born in London but moved to Sri Lanka with her family as an infant. After her father organized an independence movement for ethnic Tamils, civil war broke out and the family was forced to flee. Initially, M.I.A. and her family settled in India but eventually landed in London.
Discussing her experiences with NME, she stated: “If you’re coming from the war zone, you definitely got an issue. You have to adapt to a new place, you have to start new schools—every kid is going to go through all the things I went through. They’re gonna be in a council flay, they have to fill out the forms, sit in the waiting rooms, get housed, wait for your voucher for your school uniform. And you had to come up with how to make luncheon vouchers look cool because you’re the only kid that’s got ‘em!”
- Rita Ora
Ora was born in what was once Pristina, Yugoslavia, now known as Kosovo. Once Yugoslavia dissolved, ethnic Albanians, including 1-year-old Ora and her family, began to be persecuted by Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. The family, like those of many of the other celebrities who were refugees, fled to London, where they faced prejudice as refugees. The family was determined to have a better life, though, despite the discrimination.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Ora encouraged other refugees and their families to do the same, while reminding others about the toll that fleeing can take on people: “That word [refugee] carries a lot of prejudice but it also made us determined to survive. When you put anyone into an alien environment, where other people aren’t completely comfortable with them being there, they are automatically going to be defensive. It’s the rule of the jungle, right?”
At a time when open-door policies and actions regarding the refugee crisis are often controversial, these four celebrities who were refugees are challenging the stigma around being a refugee and whom it is we think of when discussing refugees.
– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Google Images