Especially during times of strong anti-immigration sentiment, many Americans forget something important. Aside from indigenous peoples in North America and the Africans forced into the slave trade, everyone in the country has an immigrant ancestor. Although there were British colonies such as Jamestown during the 1600s, the immigration boom happened between 1870 and 1900 when more than 12 million people arrived by boat. Most European immigrants decamped onto Ellis Island in New York City, while Asian immigrants often landed on the West Coast during the Gold Rush. Some Americans are unaware that Chinese immigrants were primarily responsible for building the transcontinental railroad — a transport method instrumental to expanding the central and western U.S. Other immigrants, often those from Germany and Scandinavia, claimed land in states like Nebraska and Kansas for farming and livestock, while immigrants from Ireland often stayed on the eastern seaboard. Many famous immigrants made America great — and even influenced the world.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author

Elie Wiesel was born in Romania in 1929. He studied to be a rabbi until he and his family were placed in Nazi death camps. Fortunately, Wiesel survived Auschwitz, as did two of his sisters. He wrote the acclaimed memoir, “Night,” about his time there. Wiesel was also an activist, speaking out against persecution and injustice, and he played a large part in developing the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. In 1986, he received the Nobel Prize. He died in 2016, aged 87.

Nobel Prize winning author Eli Wiesel in his study at home, New York, New York, October 14, 1986. ( Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images


Champion of the Hospice movement, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Born in Switzerland, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wanted to study medicine. She left home at 16 and worked various jobs to support herself before enrolling in medical school, graduating in 1957. The following year, Elisabeth married fellow medical student Emanuel Ross, and they moved to the U.S. for their internships. Dr. Kübler-Ross disliked how terminal patients were treated and began to focus on what she called life's greatest mystery — death. By the 1970s, she was a champion of the hospice movement. Dr. Kübler-Ross wrote more than 20 books on death and dying.

3. Thanks for the memories, Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope

Bob Hope was a household name for most of the 20th century. His family came to America from London when he was four, and he grew up in Cleveland. Multi-talented, Hope could sing, dance, act, and make people laugh, and he starred in more than 70 movies. In 1941, Hope began touring for the United Services Organization (USO) to entertain active troops. In all, he made 57 tours. Hope died in 2003 at age 100.

American entertainer Bob Hope holds a golf club as he stands on stage and smiles with Les Brown's band, during a 1967 USO show to entertain American troops overseas during the conflict in Vietnam. Newsmakers / Getty Images


Mellow as his cello: meet Yo-Yo Ma

World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris, France, emerging as a prodigy performing at age four. Both of his parents were classical musicians, and they moved to New York City when Ma turned 7. He attended The Julliard School and Harvard. Since then, he has played internationally and has issued more than 90 albums. Ma remains humble and funny, a gift to America and the world.

NEW YORK - APRIL 7: Musician Yo-Yo Ma poses with a mini chello at the the Yo-Yo Ma CD signing at Borders April 7, 2004 in New York City. Bryan Bedder / Getty Images


Meet the first Somali-American congresswoman, Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was two years old when her family fled Somalia’s civil war, spending four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before immigrating to the U.S. In 2019, Rep. Omar was sworn in as the first African refugee and the second Muslim-American woman elected to Congress. She is a member of "The Squad," a group of six Democratic representatives elected in 2018 who embrace progressive views. She also participates in the Congressional Black Caucus. Omar is married to political consultant Tim Mynett.

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar smiles while speaking during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., on Sunday, June 17, 2018. The DFL will endorse a primary candidate for the seat of Representative Keith Ellison, a democrat from Minnesota, as he runs for state attorney general. Emilie Richardson / Bloomberg via Getty Images


Carlos Santana, guitar wizard

Born in 1947 in Jalisco, Mexico, Carlos Santana came to the U.S. in the 1960s. The talented guitarist became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1965, later enjoying breakout fame at 1969’s Woodstock with his eponymous band. The band’s sound mixed rock with Latin and African beats, percussion, jazz, salsa, and tunes. He and his original bandmates earned a place in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, several years after Santana’s breakout hit “Supernatural.” Santana lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his second wife, Cindy.  

Mexican-born American guitarist and bandleader Carlos Santana performs live on stage with Santana, playing a Gibson guitar in London, 16th November 1973. Michael Putland / Getty Images


Call her Madame: meet Helena Rubinstein, entrepreneur

Helena Rubinstein immigrated to Australia from Poland after refusing a marriage her Orthodox father had arranged. Australians admired her flawless complexion and asked for her secret — it was a beauty cream her mother had created. Fueled by success, Rubinstein opened salons in London and Paris, and she moved to America when World War I began. As her beauty business grew into a worldwide cosmetics enterprise, she became immensely wealthy thanks to her marketing savvy. She died in 1965 at 94.

circa 1935: Beauty expert Helena Rubinstein illustrating the shape of the basic lines on the face so that make-up can be applied to flatter individual contours. (Photo by Orlando Orlando / Three Lions / Getty Images


The Oscar goes to Haing Noor: physician, actor, and author

Born in Cambodia, Haing Somnang Ngor was a surgeon and obstetrician. He survived the Khmer Rouge’s prison camps and the loss of his wife, and he escaped to Thailand after the Pol Pot regime collapsed. Ngor immigrated to the U.S. in 1980. He is best known for his portrayal of Cambodian journalist and refugee Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, a role that earned him an Academy Award in 1985. In 1996, he was murdered outside his Los Angeles apartment.

051353 09: (NO NEWSWEEK - NO USNEWS) Dr. Haing S. Ngor holds a small Statue of Liberty and an Oscar outside his apartment April, 1988 in Los Angeles, CA. Ngor won the 1985 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Cambodian photographer Dith Pran in the film "The Killing Fields." Dirck Halstead / Liaison)


And the answer is ... Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek was born in Sudbury, Ontario, to a Ukrainian father and a French-Canadian mother. Young Alex spoke both English and French at home, and in 1961, he graduated from the University of Ottawa with an interest in broadcasting. His first opportunity was as an English-language newsreader for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1973, Trebek moved to the U.S. to pursue more work, where he found success hosting game shows, music shows, and more. In 1984, he began hosting the revival of Jeopardy! In 1988, he became a U.S. citizen. He led Jeopardy! until his death in 2020.

CULVER CITY, CA - APRIL 17: Game show host Alex Trebek poses on the set of the "Jeopardy!" Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational Tournament Show Taping on April 17, 2010 in Culver City, California. Amanda Edwards / Getty Images


Meet Mother Cabrini, patroness of immigrants

Mother Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880 and went to America at the request of the Pope to minister to Italian immigrants. She reached Ellis Island at age 43 and, in the years after, founded 67 different schools, hospitals, and orphanages. Mother Cabrini passed away in 1917 and was canonized in 1946. A shrine to her memory stands outside Denver, Colorado, where she did much of her ministry.


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