Victoria Libov

Victoria Libov

Victoria Libov is an Employment Manager at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) in Northeast Portland, Oregon. She is Jewish and immigrated in 1991 from Crimea, where she was born and raised. She has resided in Portland for the past twenty three years. 

Not only does Victoria work to assist immigrants and refugees in Portland, but she shares their experience as one. Victoria was born in Sevastopol, Crimea, where her father worked as one of the civil engineers who helped rebuild the city after it had been devastated by the second World War. Victoria lived most of her life in the nearby city of Simferopol, where the family moved when she was a child, and where they remained until 1991, when Victoria decided to leave the Soviet Union with her husband, two children, and mother-in-law. 

Victoria was thirty-five years old when she and her husband made the decision to leave; she had earned her masters degree in education, and taught Russian language and literature at the university. Victoria considers herself to be ethnically Jewish. Victoria and her husband had faced widespread anti-Semitism while living in Crimea, and this was the motivating factor for immigrating to the United States. She and her husband did not want their children to live through the same discrimination that they had encountered. Though at the start of the nineties the Soviet Union was in disarray, they did not feel threatened by the economic situation, since Crimea’s status as a national resort protected it from the worst of the political and economic decline that marked the collapse of the Soviet Union. The decision to emigrate as refugees was purely for reasons of religious discrimination. 

When President Gorbachev came to power in 1990, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union eased, and their relationship became warmer and friendlier. Though this did help the process of immigration for many Soviet citizens, it had a different significance for Victoria’s story. From this international relationship sprouted a smaller relationship between the cities of Victoria’s hometown, Simferopol, and the city of Salem in Oregon. The two became sister cities, and this resulted in a delegation of doctors from Salem who came to work in Simferopol. Victoria recalls that one day a professor from the university where she worked asked her if she would like to host an American-Jewish couple from Salem for an evening. This evening became the first of many, as a friendship sparked between these Americans and Victoria’s family. During this time, Victoria and her husband had already taken the administrative steps necessary for immigration, waiting on the approval of their visas. They contemplated going to Baltimore because Victoria’s sister-in-law was there at the time. One evening, Victoria asked the American couple for their advice: would they choose to go to Baltimore or Oregon? The answer, of course, was Oregon, and as simple as that, Victoria and her husband decided to fly directly to Portland. They never regretted their decision, even after later visiting Baltimore. 

Upon arriving to the United States, Victoria had numerous challenges and advantages in her acclimation to a new country. She claims that she both did and did not know English. While in Crimea, Victoria attended a specialty school that happened to have English as its focus. As a result, many of her classes were taught in English, and she believes that she developed a very good understanding of the language. However, because she had only practiced speaking in a classroom, Victoria felt unable to use her knowledge to communicate in the United States. Eventually her schooling benefitted her, as she felt that she reached a higher-level proficiency much faster than if she had not studied the language before. Victoria’s status as a Jewish Refugee brought her a lot of support from local Jewish family and child services. They set her up in an apartment in a neighborhood that had five or six other Jewish families who were generous and eager to help her and her family with their transition. She built relationships with these families that she maintains even today. These were her primary connections to the Russian-speaking community of Portland until she began her work at IRCO. 

Victoria has been working at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization for the past twenty two years. Before that, she worked in Jewish child care, which was easy for her while she developed her language skills, but was not quite fulfilling enough for someone with a masters degree in education. However, the school system and mechanics in the United States was very different, and her credentials did not provide her with the opportunity to teach here. She applied for a position at IRCO as a job developer, and was successful in getting the job to assist other refugees. This job gave Victoria access to Russian-speaking communities that she had not encountered before. Since beginning her work, she has made many more connections to Russian-speakers and has gained insight from seeing the varying religious and cultural backgrounds. Victoria states that while working at IRCO, she has noticed that there are some communities that arrive here already with the structure of community organization in place. They have opportunities to be funded and supported. The Russian-speaking community is very different, and it has taken more time for the community to be integrated. Although they have the network of the church and congregation for support, but that network may also isolate them from the rest of the world. Victoria hopes to help her clients branch out and make similar connections outside of their comfort zones in order to ease the struggle of assimilating to a new culture and country. 

Victoria now works as a manager running employment services for the organization. She runs programs such as youth career development and human services that provide employment opportunities not exclusively for immigrants. She believes that her work at IRCO has been extremely positive and significant for the immigrant population in Portland. She has seen both the organization and the community grow since she first started and has overseen the workings of over eighty programs. She is very passionate about her work, and values every day that she gets to work with people from different cultures, while maintaining a close and respectful relationship. After working at IRCO for over two decades, she is still excited to wake up and go to work every morning. 

This story is written by Katherine Palomares and it is based on the interview Katherine conducted with Victoria in Portland, Oregon on August 5th, 2014.