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Lost Without Translation

Translator to Herndon Police for 16 years, Jorge Rochac was also an educator, mentor and friend.

Ambassador, Santa Claus, translator, friend, husband, father, grandfather, humble spirit, unselfish, having a sixth sense, Don Jorge. To members of the Herndon community, Jorge Rochac holds many titles.

To his family he is a caring father and husband who is so determined to help others that he could leave the house to grab a newspaper and not return for many hours.

To members of the Herndon Police Department, Jorge Rochac is invaluable and now that he is retiring, irreplaceable.

"He had a very positive impact because he's a very humble man," said Toussaint Summers Jr., Herndon's Chief of Police. "He doesn't talk a lot about things and he doesn't sit around, he gets things done."

As a volunteer translator, Jorge Rochac, 65, was often found along side Herndon police officers not only helping with language barriers, but also with cultural differences.

"If he heard something on the scanner, he'd just come out — he was just always there," said Sgt. Michael Berg, Herndon Police. "Somehow he has that gift to break down barriers."

Jorge Rochac came in one night for a ride-along with the police and after that "just kept showing up," said Berg.

An added benefit for police officers because he translated and helped with cases at all hours of the day or night, Jorge Rochac said his motives for helping the police stemmed from frustration.

"Honestly, when I first started riding with the police I was pissed off at what the police were doing," he said.

After watching an officer harass Hispanic residents at the 7-Eleven on Alabama Drive and Elden Street and then being faced with harassment from the officer himself, Jorge Rochac said he felt there was a need for better understanding of the Hispanic culture by the police.

After hearing about Herndon's ride-along program, Jorge Rochac decided the easiest way to understand the police was to join them.

"Just because we're Hispanic doesn't mean we're illegal," he said. "Just because there are people who are illegal, that doesn't mean they are criminals."

On his first ride along, Jorge Rochac did not let his frustration take away from his sense of humor. Telling the young police officer he was riding with that he was a journalist from U.S. News and World Report, Jorge Rochac had the officer convinced he was writing a story about police brutality in Herndon. After learning this, the officer was extremely courteous to everyone he encountered, said Jorge Rochac.

A QUIET MAN with kind eyes, white hair and a sense of humor, Jorge Rochac has experienced more in his lifetime than the average citizen.

Born in El Salvador, Jorge Rochac and his family fled to the United States as political refugees, when he was 4 years old.

"My father was exiled by the military government in 1944," he said. "I wasn't allowed back [in the country] until I was 21."

During that time his family moved to Cuba where he finished elementary school before attending high school at a men's academy in California. He received a bachelor of science in administration from Georgetown University and a master's degree in industrial engineering from George Washington University and American University.

While in school at Georgetown Jorge Rochac met his wife-to-be, Ana. A native of El Salvador, Ana Rochac was attending Georgetown when they met. Three years later the couple was married.

After working as a loan administration officer for the Washington, D.C., based Inter-American Development Bank — allowing Jorge Rochac to travel extensively — Jorge and Ana Rochac decided to move with their three young daughters back to El Salvador. Their fourth child, a son, was born there.

The move to their native country although welcoming, was also difficult because the country was at the end of an almost 20-year civil war.

In 1984, a year after writing its constitution, the country was preparing to hold its first free presidential elections. With the assistance of the United States, contractors were sought to run the elections.

Jorge Rochac won the bid.

"I was the project manager for the first Salvadorian election," he said. "I was in charge of designing and funding and figuring out who was going to vote."

During the time the couple lived in El Salvador, both were actively involved in politics and assisting the community, said daughter Fermina Rochac, neighborhood inspector for the town.

"He tends to disappear more when my mother is away because he has no curfew," joked Fermina Rochac. "I think we're all too nosy so we're willing to get involved and help out."

It was no surprise when her parents moved back to the States 20 years after living in El Salvador that her father quickly became involved in the community, she said.

"It's just something that he enjoys," she said. "He's in his environment when he's helping others."

They decided to leave their native country because they could not tolerate the unsafe environment, said Jorge Rochac. He said their oldest daughter, Mercedes, was shot three times in the ribs while out with friends. Although she did survive — the bullets just missed her heart — they did not want to remain.

"In 1988 we said we're packing our bags, to hell with it," said Jorge Rochac. "Being in El Salvador during the war, and knowing my country as I knew it, and knowing the people on my street — they were happy and then the war came. How do you learn to be able to explain, regardless of how educated the person is, why things like this happen? There are things you can't tell them because you just can't understand."

BY 1989, THE couple had bought a house in Herndon, choosing the area because of the small-town feel and because they could "never imagine living anywhere but Virginia."

Active in politics and holding prominent employment positions in El Salvador, Ana and Jorge Rochac initially found it difficult to adjust back to the area, feeling isolated at times from the community.

"I had been a CEO and general manager of the port authority and I left that to come here," said Jorge Rochac. "I did temp work for four or five years, it was a change."

But, for the past eight years Jorge and Ana Rochac have run their own business — Castro Travel in Herndon — where they help residents with immigration work including obtaining legal documents and helping with taxes. The Rochacs also help families learn about the United States, answering many legal and cultural questions.

"The great advantage I have is I have white hair," joked Jorge Rochac. "They see that and they think of an old grandfather figure."

Ana Rochac said it's not just her husband's kind features that attract people to trust him; it is his genuine desire to help people.

"That's just the way he is," she said. "With the police department Jorge has been the diplomat and I have been the fighter."

A petite woman with shoulder-length brown hair, Ana Rochac's passionate personality can be sparked easily when talking about acts of injustice and intolerance committed in the community.

When her husband began his ride-along routine in the evening, sometimes resulting in him being gone all night to return just long enough for a shower and a bite to eat before going to work, Ana Rochac said she understood.

"Because I know him very well it didn't bother me," she said. "He needs to be in social service."

Reflecting on one particular day when her grandson was over, Ana Rochac said she asked her husband to go get a newspaper from the 7-Eleven around 11 a.m.

"Soon it was 12, one o'clock," she said, "five hours later I said, 'your grandfather is not coming home, let's get the paper ourselves.' He had run into the police."

"IT WAS ALMOST his second nature to show up," said Capt. Larry Presgrave, Herndon Police. "I don't have the words to adequately describe his contribution."

During his 16 years working with the police, Jorge Rochac was never paid, said Presgrave.

Other members of the Herndon Police force said there were many times that Jorge Rochac's help allowed them to solve cases quickly, or sometimes solve them at all.

"I think he's just a caring person and that is just exuded in his personality when dealing with people," said Officer K. Sair Ahmad, Herndon Police.

Before Jorge Rochac began helping the police, officers working with non-English speaking residents would call a language line where information would be translated over the phone, said Sgt. Jerry Keys, public information officer, Herndon Police.

When dealing with Spanish-speaking residents, Keys said Jorge Rochac's ability to know the culture, understand and read body language and know when people were lying was invaluable for the police. In addition, his teaching of the nuances of the various Hispanic cultures helped officers understand the community better.

"The biggest thing he has done has been passing on that understanding of cultural differences," said Keys.

"I am still teaching Spanish to the 'crazy' cops out there," joked Jorge Rochac. "I teach them bad names so they know when they're being called something — it's probably the only time I get to call them bad words."

His humble spirit and overall demeanor make him easy to get to know, said Summers. In his 30-year law enforcement career, Summers said Jorge Rochac is the most humble person he has met. He said Jorge Rochac never wanted recognition or attention for his work.

"Jorge's a very refreshing individual who has reminded us that there's a lot of great people out there," he said. "There would have been a big void [if he hadn't volunteered] and I don't know who would have filled his shoes."