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5 Refugees Who Changed Modern American History

27 June . 2018

By ALEJANDRO DE LA GARZA June 20, 2018 Around the world, people are showing support for the millions of people displaced from their home countries for...

Around the world, people are showing support for the millions of people displaced from their home countries for World Refugee Day, which falls on Thursday, June 20. In 2017, nearly 69 million people have fled their homes to escape violence or persecution, according to the U.N.

Refugees have been coming to the United States for hundred of years, and their cultures, values, and individual contributions have profoundly shaped the nation.

The refugees have come in waves: In the late 19th century, eastern European Jews who fled the pogroms of Poland and Russia streamed across the Atlantic and soon established themselves as an integral part of American society. After Fidel Castro’s forces took power in Cuba in 1959, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled his communist dictatorship, settling in Florida and remaking the region’s culture. Even the Pilgrims — among the first European settlers in North America in 1620 — could themselves be considered refugees, forced from England by religious persecution.
Many of these refugees and their children have contributed a great deal to American society. For World Refugee Day, TIME is highlighting a few refugees who have had a profound impact on American history.

Gloria Estefan

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 14: Gloria Estefan And Miami Sound Machine A Benefit Concert for Viva Broadway at Minskoff Theatre on September 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images)

Gloria Estefan, a seven-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and member of Miami Sound Machine, was born in Havana in 1957. Her father had been a Cuban soldier before the fall of the Batista regime and her family fled the country in 1959 when communist dictator Fidel Castro took power. Her father was subsequently captured and eventually returned to the U.S. following the botched Bay of Pigs invasion.

In the mid-1970s, Estefan joined the band the Miami Sound Machine, eventually marrying keyboardist Emilio Estefan. The band slowly gained traction, first garnering success in Spanish-speaking countries before releasing their first English album Eyes of Innocence in 1984, which became a pop hit. The band followed with a string of hits, as she rose to superstardom. In 1990, the band’s bus crashed in the Pocono mountains, and Estefan sustained a broken vertebra in her back. Despite a grim prognosis, she eventually recovered, continuing to release music and work on other projects, including a 2015 Broadway musical called “On Your Feet.”

Estefan and her husband were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for their musical work and contributions to Latin American culture.

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