We all need inspiration. When it comes to immigrant success stories in the United States, there’s plenty of inspiration to go around.
In the words of President John F. Kennedy (a third-generation Irish immigrant), “Every American who has ever lived, with the exception of one group, was either an immigrant himself or a descendant of an immigrant.”
Immigrants built America. Some came to the U.S. seeking freedom and safe harbor from persecution, while others sought the promise of economic opportunity. Today, men and women from around the world add to the legacy of titans like Albert Einstein, Levi Strauss, and Ayn Rand, who all came to America and left it forever changed.
Drawing from icons of the late 20th century, here are six inspirational immigrants who changed the U.S. for the better:
Elisabeth “Liz” Claiborne (Belgium)
An entrepreneurial legend, Liz Claiborne and her family fled Belgium for the United States at the onset of World War II. After completing her education, she worked as a fashion designer in Hollywood and around the globe. In 1976, she founded her own company.
Liz Claiborne Inc. revolutionized the way working women dressed and dominated the fashion market. When Liz Claiborne Inc. made the Fortune 500 list in 1986, it became the first company founded by a woman to do so.
Following Claiborne’s death in 2007, Liz Claiborne Inc. officially became Kate Spade & Company in 2014.
Guillermo Del Toro (Mexico)
Not only is he among Mexico’s most famous immigrants, Guillermo Del Toro is also among the most successful directors currently working in Hollywood. Born in Guadalajara in 1964, Del Toro began making waves in the entertainment business before the age of 30.
Following the success of his first film, Cronos, Del Toro moved to America and made international blockbusters including Blade II, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim. He won Academy Awards for Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017), for which he was awarded Best Director and Best Picture.
Del Toro is a staunch advocate for immigrants. When he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he encouraged his fellow immigrants to “believe in the possibilities and not the obstacles. Believe in the stories you have inside, and believe we can all make a difference.”
Sergey Brin (Russia)
A co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin was born in the Soviet Union in 1973. After settling into America, he attended Montessori School in Maryland and earned his graduate degree in Computer Science at Stanford University.
While at Stanford, Brin and his intellectual partner Larry Page pursued the concept of a large-scale web search engine. Officially launched in 1998, Google forever changed the way people research and acquire information.
Hailed as the 20th century Johannes Gutenberg, founder of the printing press, Brin became a billionaire by 2004. Today, he is the ninth richest man in the world, with a net worth of $65 billion.
Madeleine Albright (Czechoslovakia)
The daughter of a diplomat, Madeleine Albright and her family lived in exile during the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia during World War II. A few years after Hitler’s defeat, she arrived at Ellis Island in 1948 and settled in New York City.
After earning her Ph.D. at Columbia University, Albright officially entered the political world as a National Security Council liaison in the Carter Administration. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to be the American ambassador to the United Nations.
Soon after, she joined the Clinton administration as Secretary of State, where she oversaw foreign policy during the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In addition to her countless honorary degrees and awards, President Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Hamdi Ulukaya (Turkey)
The son of Kurdish goat farmers, Hamdi Ulukaya was born in Turkey in 1972. His nomadic family made their living by making and selling feta cheese and yogurt across Asia Minor.
After completing his education in America, Ulukaya established his first business in upstate New York. While his feta cheese farm proved only modestly profitable, it led to a more ambitious idea: to bring the delicious, strained yogurt his family made in Turkey to the United States. At the time, Americans were more accustomed to watery brands like Yoplait.
After years of preparation, Chobani yogurt was finally born.
By 2007, Hamdi began shipping Chobani (a derivation of the Turkish word for “shepherd”) to New York retailers. By 2012, when Chobani became an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, he was sending his yogurts around the world.
Today, Ulukaya has a net worth in excess of $2 billion, while Chobani remains the top-selling Greek yogurt in the United States.
Arianna Huffington (Greece)
One of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Arianna Huffington built a media empire with her famed news aggregator, The Huffington Post.
Born in Athens, Greece in 1950, Huffington began her prolific writing career in the 1970s. After settling in America, she wrote biographies about legendary artists like Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso while simultaneously making a name for herself on Capitol Hill. Over the course of her career, her political activism engaged both sides of the conservative and liberal spectrum.
In 2005, she founded The Huffington Post, and in 2011, the website was sold to AOL for $315 million. Beyond her successful writing and publishing career, Huffington also campaigned against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 California gubernatorial race.
Today, Huffington continues to author new books while expanding her consulting group, Thrive Global.
American success stories are immigrant success stories. While it’s easy to fixate on the most famous immigrants, there are millions more working around the clock to achieve their most cherished goals.
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