“No Russians Allowed”

I had no idea that so many of you would read my blog or that The Columbian would publish it. I am truly honored and that is why this next blog is so hard for me to write.

I honestly don’t know where to start. Some of you asked me to address the challenges of moving to America, specifically around dealing with stereotypes related to being from Russia. I admit that even today this subject is very emotional and is very hard, so please take this with a grain of salt and please share your thoughts and comments.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, I moved to the US in 1991.

I was a teenager. I didn’t speak English at the time of our move and it took two or three years for me to become somewhat fluent.

For the most part, people were very nice to us. In fact, many people really enjoyed meeting me and my family, learning about our culture, language and about Russia.

Yes, I felt different and had a hard time fitting in, but I was also a teenager, and how many teenagers do you know that totally fit into their environment?

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I realized that I wasn’t only different, I was in some cases marginalized because I was a “Soviet.”

I must add that these experience were isolated, but they had a huge impact on my life and the choices I’ve made in my career and volunteer work.

I remember when a sign “No Russians Allowed” was publicly displayed at a garage sale here in our community; when people asked me if I was connected to the KGB; and when a sign at a place where I worked openly made fun of my accent.

I never assumed negative intent. I think people naturally stereotype each other and these extreme examples were limited.

I tried to address these issues proactively. I became involved in multiple diversity efforts; worked on Human Rights issues; worked on immigration issues; and dedicated my life to cultural brokerage through training and presentations.

I’ve met a lot of people curious and hungry for information about Russia, Russian culture, and the USSR. In fact, this entire blog is dedicated to these good people.

I believe that there is a big difference between curiosity and ignorance, however. Some people are just that – ignorant.

According to a CNN poll, 55 percent of American’s have negative reactions to Russia. I was shocked to learn that the number was so big.

I am curious about what people think of us before they meet us, and I would love to hear from you.

Have you had a stereotype in mind about Russia or the Russian people? What was it? How did you overcome it? What changed your mind?

I don’t mean to open a can of worms here. I was asked by you to write about this. I hope we can keep an open mind and talk about this topic as a way to address stereotypes.



Galina Burley, is a long time resident of Vancouver. She is a mother of three and is an immigrant from Russia. After moving to America in 1991 with $50 to their name, Galina's parents relied on her to get a job, learn English, and help them navigate the complexities of their new life in this country. At an early age, Galina became fluent in English, helped her parents start a family business and went to college while working two jobs and raising a family. In addition to her outstanding work as a Manager of a large scale public program, Galina's other accomplishments include: 2013 Golden Ivan Award for Community Building; A President's award from the Oregon Crime Prevention Association for her commitment to Public Safety; The George Robert House, Jr. Award for Outstanding Service (ASPA) for her efforts in community outreach; A recent nomination for the 2013 Distinguished Woman award for her work on diversity and inclusive public policy through the East European Coalition; A Master's Degree in Public Administration; A career in managing large scale programs and services; And an amazing family.

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