Celebrity Immigrant from a Persecuted Past: Mila Kunis

Kunis’ background

You know her from “That 70’s Show,” “Black Swan” and “Friends with Benefits.” But Mila Kunis’ road to stardom was a rough one. She was born the daughter of Jewish parents in the Ukranian city of Chernivtsti in 1983. But due to religious persecution, her family uprooted and immigrated to the U.S. when Kunis was seven years old.

“My whole family was in the Holocaust. My grandparents passed and not many survived,” Kunis told Britain’s The Sun. After the Holocaust, the atmosphere in the USSR became very anti-Semitic. Kunis’ parents, however, raised her to be Jewish. “You know who you are inside,” they said.

They came to the U.S. in 1991 on a religious-refugee visa and only $250 in their pockets. Unable to speak English, it was a tough year for all of them. “I cried everyday. I didn’t understand the culture,” Kunis continued in the interview. Kunis only spoke Russian when she started school in Los Angeles. She looked, dressed and sounded differently from her peers. So, Kunis’ parents decided to enroll her in acting classes to help with the language and culture barriers.  

Immigrants: Key or threat?

Immigrants are a touchy topic, even though they are often key to building the foundation of a country. Professor Erika Lee is an award-winning U.S. historian and director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. U.S. citizens have labeled immigrants a threat because “they were poor, because they practiced a different faith, or because they were non-white,” says Lee in a recent feature story.

Particularly for celebrities, it is easy to overlook their humble beginnings. As a result, the creators of the show “Fresh Off the Boat” shared the stories of celebrity immigrants in the book, “Six Words Fresh Off the Boat.” Each celebrity wrote six words and though brief, their statements are powerful. In addition, fans are more inclined to pay attention to celebrities and what they have to say.

In the book, Kunis wrote: “A better life for our children.” Kunis demonstrates a great deal of humility and always voices her appreciation for the sacrifices her parents made. Because of this, Kunis is able to provide the same opportunities she had to her daughter and son today.

(Read other celebrities’ six-word memoirs here.)

(image credit: Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 3.0)

But growing up poor, I never missed out on anything. My parents did a beautiful job of not making me feel like I was lesser than any other kids.

Mila Kunis

Kunis recounted her childhood in an interview with Glamour, stating how her parents worked full-time while going to night school to learn English. Additionally, her mother and father left their professional careers as a physics teacher and mechanical engineer. In the U.S., her father worked several jobs and her mother became a box lady.

Kunis’ professional career

Two years after coming to the U.S., Kunis began acting professionally, landing a role in “Days of Our Lives.” At 14 years old, Kunis starred in “That 70’s Show.” Jackie’s character is a self-absorbed rich girl which is far from Kunis’ upbringing, but those experiences are what allowed her to become such a versatile actress.

Kunis has also been the voice of Meg Griffin from “Family Guy” since 1999. She was Esquire’s “Sexiest Woman of the Year” in 2012 and the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ 2018 Woman of the Year.

In 2016, Kunis ridiculed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump for his anti-refugee rhetoric, saying that her experiences did not fit into his stereotypes of refugees. Trump has mentioned immigrants taking jobs away from deserving Americans along with bringing crime and disease into the country.

“It saddens me how much fear we’ve instilled in ourselves,” Kunis told Glamour.

(Image credit: US Department of Defense)

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