5 Immigrants Who Became World Leaders


During a stroll through downtown Boston recently, the influence of immigrants was ubiquitous. A statue near the financial district commemorates survivors of the Irish famine. A mile away, Italian immigrants operate restaurants and bakeries in Boston's North End. In the opposite direction, visitors encounter Chinatown. 

Boston is a small big city or a big small city, but in many ways it exemplifies the cultural impact of immigration. You taste it in the food and hear it in the street music, you see it in the fashion of passerby. As legislators debate immigration reform in Washington, D.C., however, it can be harder to see the political impact of immigrants. Here are five immigrants who changed the face of politics in their new countries.  

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold first swept the U.S. with a series of comically dubbed movies. A native Austrian, he married into the Kennedy family and served as a Republican governor of California until 2011. He governed primarily as a political moderate, appointing Democrats to influential positions. 

2. Henry Kissinger

The ever-controversial former secretary of state was born in Germany. He advanced a realist orientation to foreign policy that informed U.S. interactions in Vietnam, Latin America, and China. 

3. Isabel Allende

Allende's was a cousin of former Chilean President Salvador Allende. After Augusto Pinochet led a military coup that overthrew the president on September 11, 1972, Isabel left for Venezuela, then the U.S. In her memoir, My Invented Country, she recalls the terror of the political transitions in Chile. 

4. Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Although Ayaan Hirsi Ali did not immigrate to the U.S., she exerted profound influence on her adopted country. A native Somalian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali found asylum in Holland, where she became an outspoken critic of Islam. Despite high-profile tensions against immigrants throughout the country, Hirsi Ali became a member of Parliament before she resigned after being accused of lying on her asylum application. She helped ignite a conversation about feminism, Islam, and the limits of political tolerance. 

5. Albert Einstein

The German physicist fled to the U.S. during World War II. Although he is best known for his contributions to the theory of relativity, Einstein was also an arden pacifist. He supported the civil rights movement in the U.S. and opposed the Red Scare, drawing the ire of some congressmen.