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“I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream” with Ariela Nerubay, CMO of Curacao

As an immigrant who was the recipient of almost every type of visa there is, I do have to say that the path to citizenship is arduous and lengthy. I understand that our country must ensure the proper background checks are secured and paperwork that can help determine the type of citizen we could become. […]


As an immigrant who was the recipient of almost every type of visa there is, I do have to say that the path to citizenship is arduous and lengthy. I understand that our country must ensure the proper background checks are secured and paperwork that can help determine the type of citizen we could become. However, the length of time required to devote to the process and the repetition of paperwork that needs to be submitted over and over is clear evidence of an inefficient system and one that is in great need of optimization. Additionally, there is an aspect to the immigration process that is much talked about which is the mistreatment of foreign aliens. Throughout my entire naturalization process I constantly felt mistreated by immigration officers. The undermining attitude is real and applied to everyone. No matter where you are from, how you look, what your financial level is, the immigration system is cold, confusing, intimidating and long.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariela Nerubay, Chief Marketing Officer of Curacao. Ariela has 15+ years of experience in executive marketing leadership launching, re positioning and growing brands and businesses from zero to multimillion-dollar operations. A multicultural marketing expert, Nerubay currently serves as CMO at Curacao, a top 100 retailer, in addition to being adjunct MBA faculty at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Prior to Curacao, she lead multicultural marketing strategy for The Walt Disney Studios, Hispanic marketing operations for Sony Pictures International Releasing and built the marketing department for a start-up media venture between Spanish-language media giants Televisa and Univision, gaining full distribution and top viewer rankings for seven cable networks.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in Mexico City. I belong to a family of eastern European Jews who immigrated to Mexico in the early 1920’s running away from persecution. Growing up as a Jewish girl in a country that is 99% Catholic inevitably impacted my identity as a bicultural Jewish Mexican. On one hand, I celebrated and identified myself with all the cultural traditions that come with my eastern European ancestry and religion. From language — I spoke fluent Yiddish and Hebrew — to music, food, core values and beliefs passed to me from generation to generation. On the other hand, my Mexican identity was deeply rooted. I loved my country’s language, culture, food, music, traditions, colorful handcrafts and rich natural ecosystems. Although, for most of my childhood I was immersed in a tight knit Jewish community, we were still participants in the Catholic community at large. From attending Christmas holidays with non-Jewish friends and neighbors to participating in religious based Mexican traditions such as Day of the Dead celebrations, Posadas and baptisms. I remember attending Sunday mass with my care takers so frequently that I eventually memorized the Holy Father prayer and grew to really like the Ave Maria song.

I always identified myself as both, Jewish and Mexican, and to this day, I am able to seamlessly glide between both cultures.

Being bicultural also presented its own social challenges. During my formative years, I coped with insecurities including a strong desire to belong and not be identified as different. College was especially challenging as antisemitism in Mexico was overt at that time; political correctness was not part of societal censoring. The Jewish community was constantly under attack as swastikas were drawn on our schools and synagogues and criminal acts of violence were being committed against our guards. Many times I intentionally chose not to disclose my Jewish background to protect myself from potential threats and social alienation.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you immigrate to the US? Can you tell the story?

The Mexico I grew up in was a very “malinchista” society. A term used to refer to those who are attracted to foreign values, thinking of them as superior and of better quality. My society taught me that “America” was a “better” place than Mexico because they have better infrastructure, schools, music, doctors and candy! My parents made sure I learned English at a young age, enrolling me into a British weekend school which I attended every Saturday, for 4 hours, for a decade. The process of learning a language also offered exposure to music and culture. I was captivated. I consumed dubbed American TV shows, watched Hollywood movies and listened to American music. My grandmother would travel to Miami several times during the year and bring me foreign wonders that included anything from Guess jeans to Hello Kitty toys and M&Ms. I also traveled with my family to America often. I remember being attracted to the scent of new construction at the airports, the wideness of the freeways, the variety of options and brands at the supermarkets. To me, life seemed brighter and more fun north of the border. After I graduated from college, looking to pursue my MBA, America was a natural choice. I applied to UCLA, was accepted and moved to Los Angeles. I have been in America for 24 years and it is everything I hoped it would be, including the religious identity freedom I lacked during my formative years and was definitely going to improve for my future generations.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I share a similar path as Mexican-born American news anchor, journalist and author Jorge Ramos. I entered the US with a student visa after being accepted at a full-time program at UCLA extension. After completion, I applied for a practical training visa which allowed me to legally work for one year. During that time, I joined the news bureau for ECO news, a 24-hour news cable network owned by Televisa and predecessor of CNN en Espanol. I did on and off camera reporting as well as assignment desk coordination. That experience layed the path to a long-time career focused on servicing Hispanic consumers in the U.S. through Spanish-language entertainment. Before my visa expired, Televisa sponsored me for an H-1 visa which lead to a path to a green card culminating with my citizenship, which fully materialized a decade later.

My drive to move to America was always the pursuit of independence. Being a Mexican Jewish woman, I was expected to live at home until I married, then move from my father’s home to my husband’s home. I knew at a young age that path was not a good fit for me. I have always been fiercely independent, driven and ambitious. I was very different from my friends at that time; I was more interested in building a career, having my own place and paying my bills than getting married and having kids. I certainly wanted to have a family one day, but I had bigger plans for myself during my 20s. Moving to America offered me the opportunity to be on my own in a socially acceptable manner.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

There is no “one” person who I am grateful for, as I was blessed to have a village of mentors, friends and family who supported me on my move and journey. My dad is someone who was especially supportive, as he financially sponsored me during my first year in America. He set me up with housing and monthly expenses while I worked to pay for my school and entertainment with multiple babysitting jobs. My mom was a great emotional support, even though I knew I broke her heart by leaving the nest and delaying her hopes for becoming a young grandmother. She always supported my choices and empowered me to follow my passions.

Once in America, I was lucky to cross paths with multiple people who supported me and guided me along my journey and path to citizenship. From the great post graduate professors to other international students who became longtime friends. I had amazing bosses who became mentors and career sponsors that propelled my growth and success. I have been blessed with colleagues who became close friends and important emotional supporters. I have made lifelong friendships, which I found in unexpected places. I’ve surrounded myself with all kinds of wonderful people, from all backgrounds and religions who all have made my immigrant experience a rewarding one.

So how are things going today?

Life is great. I am married to my best friend and life partner, have three wonderful children and a job I love to go to every day. I especially enjoy my role at Curacao as I get to improve the lives of other immigrants like myself who come to America searching for a better life and with limited resources. For 35 years, Curacao has been offering Hispanic immigrants access to credit so they can buy the essentials they need to get their life started in a new country. I remember when I applied for my first credit card and got denied due to my lack of credit history. At Curacao, people like myself, would get approved for credit lines in the $500-$2,000 range. That’s enough to buy the necessities — a bed, fridge, table and chairs — to have a dignified life. Payments are low and interest rates competitive. In fact, Curacao offers an Interest Beat Guarantee, which allows customers to further discount their interest rates based on other store card offers. Also, I worked on the design and launch of Curacao’s most aggressive competitive advantage program called Price Beat Guarantee, which not only matches, but further discounts any product found at a lower price offered by competitors. These are two of many great programs I have been spearheading at the company. What makes me proudest are our social cause marketing campaigns. I have instituted campaigns year round in support of the local communities we serve though the Curacao Foundation nonprofit, which I helped redesign and relaunched last year.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Absolutely, I am a firm believer in giving back and I have been lucky to serve the Hispanic community my entire career. I have personally mentored dozens of Latina women through my involvement in various mentoring programs including Univision’s Women Leadership Committee, The Patrick Mellon Mentorship Program by The National Association for Minorities in Cable and the Alumni mentor program at CSULB. I am also adjunct faculty at USC Annenberg and Marshall Schools. I teach multicultural marketing with the intent of raising cultural awareness among students in the hopes it leads to more responsible advertising practices across industries.

Another way I have been able to touch people’s lives is though the Curacao Foundation. As mentioned earlier, I have made my mission to ensure every major campaign we produce has a charitable component. In the past 18 months we have run campaigns to support survivors of natural disasters, planted tens of thousands of trees across California forests impacted by the recent fires, donated thousands of dollars to local schools benefitting more than 5,000 children and this month we are looking to donate a percentage of every purchase made at Curacao to the Susan G Komen foundation in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

As an immigrant who was the recipient of almost every type of visa there is, I do have to say that the path to citizenship is arduous and lengthy. I understand that our country must ensure the proper background checks are secured and paperwork that can help determine the type of citizen we could become. However, the length of time required to devote to the process and the repetition of paperwork that needs to be submitted over and over is clear evidence of an inefficient system and one that is in great need of optimization. Additionally, there is an aspect to the immigration process that is much talked about which is the mistreatment of foreign aliens. Throughout my entire naturalization process I constantly felt mistreated by immigration officers. The undermining attitude is real and applied to everyone. No matter where you are from, how you look, what your financial level is, the immigration system is cold, confusing, intimidating and long.

So I only recommend two changes to the system:

1. A reduction of time on the path to citizenship through the optimization of processes and operations of the department.

2. An officer customer service training to adjust the attitude of immigration officers who ultimately exist and are paid for by the citizens and citizens-to-be and whose duty it is to serve and welcome those who by choice, chance or need enter the system in hopes of becoming naturalized.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Work smart — Working hard is not enough, must deliver results, stay focused, committed and find your seat at the table. Once there, offer solutions, own your role and never stay quiet and complacent.

2. Never give up — problems will happen, but consistency and discipline delivers results

3. Give back — inspire others and lend a hand to those behind you

4. Invest in books and bricks — education and real-estate always pay back big dividends long term

5. Find your niche — we all belong somewhere, become the best at that

6. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Your life is yours to design

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

1.With 40% of millennials being of multicultural backgrounds our country is becoming more heterogeneous and diverse than ever before. With diversity comes richness in thinking, which leads to innovation and growth. That’s what makes America great, immigration and diversity.

2. Technological breakthroughs achieved by American entrepreneurs are not only making life better for Americans, but also for the rest of the world.

3. Generation Z is a more civically engaged generation that cares about the environment and prioritizes life balance over financial success. That makes me hopeful that their vote will be able to bring real change to gun control laws and global warming while disrupting the workplace in ways that lead to healthier lifestyles for young families where involvement and presence at the home will be a turning point for society and generations to come.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

My biggest public figure heroes are no longer alive and include my uncle, Jacobo Zabludovski, the greatest Mexican journalist of all time, and Mexican painter and female power figure Frida Kahlo. But, if I could have breakfast with anyone in the U.S., I would choose Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg or Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker Malcolm Gladwell. Both are incredibly insightful thought leaders whose books I have devoured. Sheryl to me is an example of female strength and vulnerability combined with corporate achievement. Malcolm’s mind is incredibly intriguing to me.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

I am a private person; however, I do have public accounts such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

· LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arielanerubay/

· Twitter: https://twitter.com/ariela21?lang=en

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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