Maria Rubinstein & her Brazil-California Chamber or Commerce

She seems to have it made now. But for Maria Rubinstein,
founder of the Brazil California Chamber of Commerce, the American dream
has entailed a 20 year struggle which had her working the graveyard shift
while studying during the day, waiting on restaurant tables, selling real
estate and starting as a clerk in a bank. Even when things got better she
still had to face personal tragedy before getting stability and piece of

Liana Alagemovits

Since early childhood, Maria Rubinstein had a dream: to get to know
the USA. She would have to wait a little more than she wanted, but due
to her persistence and strong personality, Maria got a scholarship to finish
high school in Los Angeles, California, in 1973. It was a passion at first
sight, she said, but she could only stay in Uncle Sam’s land for one year.
Despite her sadness, the return to her country was inevitable.

Maria, however, was intent on coming back. “I knew that I had been
born in the wrong place. I felt at home in the USA and I knew my destiny
was to return,” she reminisced recently. In 1975, once again her soles
touched North American land, and her soul was closer to fulfillment.

As it happens for the majority of Brazilians that come here to start
a new life, the beginning was not easy. Soon after she arrived, Maria was
living in the San Fernando Valley, where she used to work from midnight
till seven in the morning taking care of elderly people. From this job
she would go straight to school until noon. For this 18-year-old working
woman the afternoon was the only time for a little rest.

Alone and without help from anyone, Maria didn’t see herself as defeated
and she got a job as a waitress. She then studied to get a license as a
Realtor. “In 1980 I got my license to sell properties, but the market
was declining and I had to find another job in a bank,” she said.
Within six months she was already the manager’s assistant.

By then, everything was going more smoothly and Maria got married. Unfortunately
the good times did not last long. In 1984, while leaving work in downtown
Los Angeles, her 37-year-old husband was murdered. Desperate, widowed and
again alone, Maria kept going forward and found relief in her career, which
at that point was not only providing for material stability but was also
a distraction from her own personal life. That’s when she became a financial
consultant for the Merril Lynch company.

Five years later, on a blind date, Maria met 37-year-old American lawyer,
Zev Rubinstein. They have been married since and have produced together
two children: Justin, born in ’91 and Cassandra, born in ’93.

Although professionally stable and happy with her own family, not everything
was perfect for Maria, who yearned for her Brazilian roots. “I missed
my sister a lot,” she observed recently. “We’ve always been very
good friends. I only relaxed when she was close to me.”

Her sister Denise Ferreira, 35, brought her sweet memories from Brazil.
Excited about the 1994 Soccer World Cup in the US, they met a lot of Brazilians
during that time. “Walking around the streets of Beverly Hills, where
we were working at the time, we saw Brazilian flags everywhere. This way
it was easy to spot many Brazilians that were around and even a few American
enthusiasts of our soccer team,” she says.

Since then these people started meeting to talk about Brazil and how
to enhance the country’s economic presence in southern California. The
enthusiasm kept up even after the last game and Brazil’s victory on the
World Cup.

The Brazilian team got the unique title of “Tetracampeão
(four-time champion) and went back home in July. Two months later the group
“Brazilians in Business” was founded. According to Denise and
Maria, after that it snowballed: “With each meeting the group would
get bigger and bigger.” Soon the group had more than 400 members and
was transformed into BCCC, the Brazil-California Chamber of Commerce.


Open for business


Maria Rubinstein, 39, had the assistance of Sérgio R. Korn, 44,
when she decided to create an organization that could help Brazilian and
American entrepreneurs willing to do business together. The idea was, at
first, to have a group of debates about economy and business, following
the example of the successful New York and Miami Chambers of Commerce.


As a professional in the business field (she is a financial consultant),
Rubinstein found out that something important was missing in Southern California:
a Brazilian-flavored association to support business people who already
were developing commercial activities between Brazil and the United States,
or those who were interested in starting such business contacts.

The first step was to study the former Brazil-California Trade Association
(BCTA), established in 1972, and shut down in 1988. Thus, Rubinstein and
Korn met members of the extinct Association, Mercedes Foster, Duane H.
Zobrist, and Carlos Valderama. The three associates decided not only to
give support to the new idea, but also to work together on it.

After the World Cup in 1994, they gathered a small group, initially
called Brazilians in Business. “I began to invite people who had displayed
Brazilian flags at some company windows during the soccer team,” says
Maria, not hiding who really she is: a woman who doesn’t waste time and
goes straight after what she wants.

In late 1994, the group had already grown to around 100 people. They
started to meet in a Brazilian restaurant to exchange ideas. The increasing
number of those members gave them a green light to make the Association
more formal. The lack of a special room for the meetings became the first
hurdle. Rubinstein decided that the gatherings should be done in the Ramada
Inn, in Beverly Hills, every last Wednesday of the month. “We wanted
to initiate a tradition, so all members and interested people could know
where and when we will get together,” she explained.

Since then, the monthly meetings have been happening in English, attended
by over 60 business men and women interested in US-Brazil economic links.
Brazilian Consulate representatives in Los Angeles and some UCLA (University
of California, Los Angeles) professors have also joined the group. “During
such meetings there have been important lectures given by professionals
of finance and economics,” said Korn.

The goal, according to Rubinstein and Korn, is to establish ties among
the members and to serve as a point of reference as well. The idea continues
to fructify and to produce results. “Due to the increase of our organization,
other people came out to join us,” says Korn, citing names as the
Business Administrator Ricardo Coutinho, Rosângela Maria and Carlos
Braga, who became responsible for the Events Committee.

Journalists like Fábio Golombek, Júlio Sobral and Ruth
Walsh came to form the Publication Committee, and Zadig Lima and lawyer
Ida Ferraz, started the Membership Committee. So, with all this support
and enthusiasm, a Brazil-California Chamber of Commerce in Transition was
established in May. To celebrate the occasion, the group promoted a cocktail
party attended by over 120 people. Among them were journalists, entrepreneurs,
economists and Brazilian government authorities, like the Consul in Los
Angeles, Jório Salgado.

The good results of the Brazil-California Chamber of Commerce meetings
have shown that the Rubinstein’s idea was the right thing to do at a time
in which Brazil’s prestige has been growing fast. According to an Ernst
& Young survey, Brazil is the third place among the American priorities
for foreign investments, after China and Mexico.

Among the plans for the Chamber organization, there are monthly meetings,
with diner or lunch, and informal parties, as the election of the “person
of the year” and a Christmas celebration. There will also be workshops
in different areas, such as tourism and motion pictures, among others.

After some recent management changes, the Brazil-California Chamber
of Commerce is growing stronger. The chamber has been a valuable source
of information not only for Brazilian and American executives, but also
for Brazilian businessmen and politicians from all over Brazil. The group
has been very helpful in providing information about trade, commerce and
investment leads in California and Brazil. This is a new phase in an institution
which has been growing slowly but steadily.

The BCCC has been struggling also to develop a solid base of membership.
Among its members are large international businesses such as Banco do Brasil
and Odebrecht, as well as medium and small size companies. They come from
a variety of economic sectors such as entertainment, import and exports,
tourism, clothing, and independent professionals who provide services in
the areas of financial, legal, accounting and computer consulting services.

For information or membership kit you can call (213) 975-9237.

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