Nicki Minaj Came to the U.S. at 5 Years Old, Plus More Celebs Who Shared Their Emotional Immigration Stories
Speaking out about the migrant children being torn away from their parents at the U.S. and Mexico border, Minaj shared an emotional message on Instagram while revealing her own experience of coming to America as an immigrant born in Saint James, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
"I came to this country as an illegal immigrant at 5 years old," Minaj wrote. "I can't imagine the horror of being in a strange place and having my parents stripped away from me at the age of 5. This is so scary to me. Please stop this. Can you try to imagine the terror & panic these kids feel right now? Not knowing if their parents are dead or alive, if they’ll ever see them again…"
MAKS & VAL CHMERKOVSKIY
At the ages of 14 and 8, respectively, the Dancing with the Stars pros moved to New York from Ukraine with their father after his business burned down. Within eight months, the family went through their entire savings.
Maks was mugged for his Rollerblades on his second day in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and both brothers recall being bullied because of their accents and last name. "We had challenges," Val told PEOPLE. "But we never let it chip away at the gratitude we felt for the opportunities we had."
Valderrama was born in Miami but moved to Venezuela with his family, where his father worked as a farmer, at the age of 3. The That '70s Show star revealed his parents "sold everything they had" years later to return to the United States, specifically California.
Their story resonates with a larger number of Americans, he noted during his speech at the Looking Ahead Awards: "It is the blueprint of this country, which is the story of an immigrant." He then shared a personal story from his childhood — one that he will "never forget." As a child, Valderrama and his sisters were responsible for walking alongside their mother multiple times each week to and from their local 99 Cents Only Store. "We were getting cereal, we were getting 'Cola,' we were getting the Lucky Charms with the guy without the hat. We were getting Cocoa Puffs but spelled with a B: Cocoa Buffs," he recalled. "But we were proud of that, because at the end of the day my parents said, 'Hey, we’re here. We're already winning.'"
She may be best known for her roles on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, but Guerrero is using her star power to advocate for immigration reform — a cause close to her heart. The actress, whose parents were deported back to Colombia when Guerrero was only 14 years old, recounted the painful experience in a Los Angeles Times op-ed as well as in her book, In the Country We Love.
"Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn't there," read Guerrero's essay. "Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over." She previously told CNN: "It is so difficult for some people ... My parents tried forever. What I'm asking for is to create a solution for families."
In a 2015 interview coinciding with Immigrant Heritage Month, the Miami-raised singer spoke out about his family's journey to the United States. Pitbull's grandmother, who was fighting in the Cuban revolution at the time, sent her daughters (including the singer's mother) abroad as part of Operation Peter Pan — the largest migration of 14,000 minors in the 1960s.
Pitbull's father made it to the U.S. through a visa lottery in the 1980s. "They knew what this country had to offer is that you could control your own destiny," he said. "You had opportunity. And you had the number-one thing which was and which is freedom."
The star, whose mom and dad are Cuban and Mexican, respectively, wrote about her own immigration story in an essay for POPSUGAR Latina, recalling the day she and her mom crossed the Mexican border to find refuge in Miami.
The singer's mom told Cabello the pair were headed to Disney World in an attempt to keep her young daughter calm; Cabello's dad would join them later. "Whenever I have to make a decision now and I'm afraid, my mom always reminds me of that day. 'That day, I knew if I thought about it, fear would make me turn back. That's why when you're afraid, you force yourself to jump. You don't think, you just jump,' she says to me."
She continued: "I am so proud to be Cuban-Mexican. This country was built on immigrants. People who were brave enough to start over. How strong we are to leave behind everything we know in hopes of something better. We are not fearless, we just have dreams bigger than our fears ... And so next time, when anybody wants to tell you they want to build a 'wall' on our border, remember behind that wall is struggle, determination, hunger."
"I was an illegal immigrant in the United States," Hayek told Spain's V magazine in a revealing 2010 interview. "It was for a small period of time, but I still did it." The Oscar nominated actress also spoke out about the racism she faced in Hollywood. "I had to endure the worst time of all in terms of racial discrimination in Hollywood when I first started out," she said. "It was inconceivable to American directors and producers that a Mexican woman could have a lead role."
"I am the proud child of Honduran immigrants, I am profoundly grateful for the access and opportunity that exists in this extraordinary nation," Ferrera admitted during her appearance at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.
"I was educated in public schools. My talents were nurtured through a public arts program. And you know what? Occasionally, I needed a free meal to get through the school day."
Born in New Jersey and raised in Queens, New York, Saldana moved to the Dominican Republic at 10 years old to live with her grandparents after her father was killed in a car accident. She would return to the U.S. years later to kick off her acting career.
"There's something really beautiful about being first-generation. You're in the middle, and you have to bring your parents and your grandparents to the other side. Yet, once you're on the other side, you want to maintain the beauty of tradition," she said in an interview with Glam Belleza Latina. "I feel like I was raised in a very balanced way. My mom wanted us to always be who we are, but she told us fables and stories of where we come from."