It’s become a platitude that we’re all immigrants. That’s about as inclusive a demographic as can be imagined. But here’s the thing: of those hundreds of millions of people who have left their homelands for the USA, some of the greatest accomplishments made by famous new citizens have been lost with time.
Here are just a few who overcame injustice, poverty and privation.
Take the life of Joseph Pulitzer. He may be best known for the journalism prize that bears his name, but that was a posthumous honor. Although he was born the scion of a wealthy family, the Pulitzers lost their fortune and Joseph was on his own, down and out, a Union soldier in the Civil War who renounced his Austro-Hungarian citizenship shortly after the war’s conclusion.
He was left relatively penniless, needing to demonstrate his work ethic by working several odd jobs at a time. Eventually, a pair of lawyers noticed that work ethic who helped get him a job with the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. The rest, as they say, is history.
Then there’s the case of Autlán de Navarro. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico in the early 1960s. De Navaro’s impoverished mother gave him $20. One visit to the United States convinced him to return home to Tijuana, the city his family had lived in for most of his life. His mother and brother finally convinced him to return to the States a year later, where he enrolled in school, cleaned a lot of dishes at a diner, and formed a band and changed his name to Carlos Santana.
Audrey Kathleen Ruston’s British-born father left his family in Europe when she was six to become involved with the British Union of Fascists. Though her immigrant mother was at first sympathetic to the Nazis, mother and daughter went into hiding while in Europe, where they became active in the Resistance. Years later, the woman known now worldwide as Audrey Hepburn recalled that the hardships during the war were so great that her family was so hungry they ate tulip bulbs.
After the war, Hepburn nurtured her career as an actor. But along with winning world-wide acclaim, Hepburn led what seems to be today a second life: her long and devoted service to children the world over culminated in being appointed a good-will ambassador for UNICEF. She made more than 50 trips to UNICEF projects around the world. Many of those trips were life-threatening. Hepburn used those trips to alert the world to the number of humanitarian crises facing millions of children.
Albert Einstein was once a wanted man. The 1921 Nobel Prize winner was sought after by every prestigious university you could name. But in 1933, twelve years after resisting those offers to leave the University of Berlin, Einstein fled his native Germany and finally settled in at Princeton University. That was the year the German government passed laws forbidding Jews from holding any sort of official position, including professorships.
Being politically oppressed was far from an academic exercise. In that same year, a German magazine offered a $5000 bounty on him, at about the same time as Adolf Hitlet came to power. His Berlin apartment was broken into twice. A German magazine described hin as “not yet hanged,” The Nobel Prize and the notoriety that came with it was no protection from the murderous antisemitic grasp of the Nazi regime.