By Morgan Mattson

You may be familiar with news stories highlighting refugee admissions and civil wars in other countries, and of people loading up on boats to find safety in another country. When hearing these stories and looking at these photos, you may have thought about how these stories are happening far away and refugees have not had any sort of effect on your life. Or you may have wondered what happens to the people fleeing war and persecution or how you can help them. Throughout the week, we will highlight stories of former refugees and show you how much of a positive effect refugees have had on us, and let you know how you can advocate and help the millions displaced throughout the world!

Refugees have had a huge impact on pop culture, influences in science and psychology, and have found a special place in our hearts throughout history. I am going to share some stories of people who you may not have known were refugees and who have had a huge impact on society! I will also share with you the opportunity to hear stories of refugees who have resettled in Nebraska and their journeys.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”. “Somebody to Love”. “We Will Rock You”. “Another One Bites the Dust”. “Fat Bottomed Girls”. You may recognize these song titles as hits from the famous rock band, Queen. Did you know that the lead vocals for Queen, Freddie Mercury, resettled in England as a refugee? Born Farrokh Bulsara, he escaped violence in Zanzibar to England where he met his fellow bandmates and created the music, we all know and love.

Have you seen That 70s Show, Bad Moms, Forgetting Sarah Marshal or Friends with Benefits? If so, you are familiar with Mila Kunis as an actress! But did you know that she experienced oppression at a very young age for coming from a Jewish background? Mila Kunis came to the U.S. on a refugee visa from Soviet Ukraine. She was only 7 years old and had to navigate through the challenges that come from not knowing the language of the new country she resettled in. She has thrived in the U.S. and is a very successful actress and producer!

The Theory of Relativity changed the course of science and physics and was developed by Albert Einstein. You have most likely heard his name and know that he has been a huge influence for science. But did you know that he was amongst the many people being persecuted by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s? He fled persecution in 1933 from Nazi Germany and continued to dedicate his life to physics and change the course of scientific knowledge throughout the world.

Did you know that when she was only 9 years old, rapper Mathangi Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A.’s primary school was destroyed in a government raid, and her family was forced to flee Sri Lanka to resettle in England? She is known for drawing attention to the struggles of refugees and immigrants through her music and art. You may recognize her songs “Paper Planes”, “Borders”, and “Bad Girls”.

Communist rule in Cuba led to the escape of many in the 1950s and 60s. The Bay of Pigs Invasion forced many people to resettle from Cuba to the United States. Among those who escaped were Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia. Gloria Estefan and her mother escaped the Communist Revolution in Cuba when she was just 2 years old. Andy Garcia was only 5 years old when he and his family fled Cuba to come to the U.S.

Gloria Estefan portrayed her Cuban-American heritage through her music and is famously known for her songs “Conga”, “Get on Your Feet”, and “Turn the Beat Around”. You may recognize Andy Garcia from his work in The Untouchables, The Godfather: Part III, and the Ocean’s Eleven movie franchise. Both Estefan and Garcia have paved a path for Cuban Americans and refugees throughout the country.

Most people who resettle in Nebraska come from Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. The stories our new Nebraska neighbors tell are heartbreaking and incredible. They shine a light on how resilient a person can be when needed to be. We hope that by creating a welcoming community that our refugee friends and neighbors never have to face challenges like these ever again. You can hear stories from local refugees here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdQGFMDTUAY and  https://unomail-my.sharepoint.com/:v:/g/personal/ckopietz_unomaha_edu/EYN8IuPqOcZGuGLupRYpRsYBBOFYONBmU0BfxmIlSqVaTw?e=f9NYpq.

Here are some other famous people who you may not have known were refugees:

Rita Ora: pop singer fled Kosovo when she was a baby Ora was born to Albanian parents in Yugoslavia (now present-day Kosovo). With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, ethnic Albanians faced persecution. She relocated to London, and now she’s a singer, actress, and model.

Alek Wek: Top model who escaped Civil War in Sudan to London when she was 9.

Iman: Supermodel who fled Somalia in 1972 to Kenya.

Madeleine Albright: The first female secretary of state in the U.S. resettled from Czechoslovakia.

Sigmund Freud: Left Austria to London to escape the Nazis and is the founder of psychoanalysis.

Regina Spektor: Born in Moscow and fled to New York to escape religious persecution.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer: Left Nazi Germany and grew up in a Swiss orphanage. Media personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer was sent to Switzerland while her mother and grandmother were murdered in the Holocaust.

Warsan Shire: Featured in Beyonce’s “Lemonade”. She was born in Kenya to Somali refugees.

Ilhan Omar: First Somali-American elected into U.S. Congress, fled to Kenya from Somalia to a refugee camp and after 4 years came to the U.S.

DON’T FORGET!

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska has partnered with Thrivent to run a “welcome sign campaign” throughout the entire week! Simply write “welcome refugees” on a piece of paper, poster, etc. and take a picture of the sign showing your support for the Nebraska refugee community. The picture can be a selfie holding the sign, the sign in your window, next to your pet… anywhere! Post your picture to Facebook with the hashtag #welcomerefugeesNE or to THIS page and Thrivent will donate $5 back to LFS for refugee resettlement! You can take up to 5 pictures with your sign and Thrivent will donate $5 back for every picture. That’s $25 per person!! Let us work together to show our support and welcome for the refugee community of Nebraska!

Tune in every day for new stories, information, and resources as we celebrate World Refugee Day – Week of Welcome! Tomorrow we shine a light on local refugee artists.

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