Curious George, Christopher Columbus, Superman, the Black Panther: a short list of famous immigrants

We spend a lot of time making assumptions about who is an immigrant, and what that means. The word ‘immigrant’ itself can have a negative connotation in certain circles. But why is that? Our country is made up of immigrants, even indigenous populations moved around the world before settling in one spot. We all share a varied and diverse gene pool that is a roadmap to the globe, and highlights a basic ‘uprooting’ that seems inherently human.  More than that, some of our greatest citizens were or are immigrants. Here is a short list of my favorite famous immigrants.

Curious George

Before his pedal into mischief in “Curious George Rides a Bike,” the monkey took a much more harrowing ride when his creators escaped the Nazi invasion of France. The first manuscript was among the few belongings that Margret and H.A. Rey took with them when they fled Paris in June 1940. Both German Jews, the Reys cobbled together 2 bikes out of spare parts and pedaled to Orleans. Trains carried them through Spain and Portugal, where they boarded a ship to the US.The Reys became U.S. citizens and settled in New York and later Cambridge, Mass. The book was ultimately published in the United States, and is one of our most dear children’s stories.

“Kids are drawn in because of George, but they’re also inspired by the story because these people were ordinary citizens in a wartime situation,” said Louise Borden, author of “The Journey That Saved Curious George.

Christopher Columbus was a Polish Immigrant

He is celebrated as the humble Italian weaver who ended up discovering the Americas. But the conventional wisdom relating to Christopher Columbus is under threat after academics concluded the explorer was actually a Polish immigrant. An international team of distinguished professors have completed 20 years of painstaking research into his beginnings. The fresh evidence about Columbus’ background is revealed in a new book by Manuel Rosa, an academic at Duke University in the United States. He says the voyager was not from a family of humble Italian craftsmen as previously thought – but the son of Vladislav III, an exiled King of Poland.

Superheroes – the great metaphor: Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman

Wonder Woman, Superman and Aquaman are all immigrants, as is the Black Panther. In fact many of the superheroes come from other planets, dimensions, alternate time lines ( we don’t have a visa for that…yet).

  • Wonder Woman is mixed race Greek, and “from the gods” from the island Themyscira (off the coast of Greece in another dimension). She’s likely in the US on a work visa or perhaps gained Green Card as Alien of Extraordinary Ability
  • Superman is from Krypton. He was adopted through family immigration by his parents in Kansas. He is a citizen of the United States.
  • Aquaman is from Atlantis off the coast of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco. He is likely in the US with a work visa.

The Black Panther is undocumented and one of his cast is a real life Dreamer!

Finally – in one of my favorite immigration stories of the year – we combine fantasy with reality in the Black Panther. The Black Panther himself is an undocumented immigrant, and it’s not just a back story. In the seminal 2011 comic series “Black Panther: The Man Without Fear,” the main character, T’Challa — the ruler of the fictional country of Wakanda — deals with the challenges of being an African immigrant without papers.

Then Black Panther actor Bambadjan Bamba came out in February as a Dreamer, saying he has been able to work in Hollywood under the DACA program. Now he’s living the dream, and sharing it with millions of new young (and old) fans.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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