In Memoriam Sergio Cafaro

Beloved Downtown LosAngeles Interpreter Succumbs to COVID-19

Sergio Cafaro, a certified Spanish-language interpreter in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, a committed and passionate public servant who earned the admiration and love of his fellow court interpreters, died Jan. 12 from complications due to COVID-19. He was 56.

Mr. Cafaro, who lived in Thousand Oaks, had been hospitalized at Los Robles Regional Medical Center since late-December. His wife, Delia, confirmed his death yesterday in a telephone call with Mr. Cafaro's colleague, interpreter Daniel Sosa.

Known for his warmth, peaceful spirit, and devotion to work – he never missed a day on the job during the nine-month COVID-19 pandemic – Mr. Cafaro was a friendly presence at the Clara Shortridge-Foltz Criminal Justice Center, popularly known as the Criminal Courts Building, or CCB.

An Argentinian by birth, Mr. Cafaro was a large bear of a gentleman. Well over six feet, he greeted friends and co-workers with a characteristic bear hug – or, at least he did so before the pandemic.

"This pandemic, of course, made that now impossible," said Spanish-language interpreter Begonya De Salvo. "He was probably having the hardest time. I still felt his big bear hugs, though. His powerful presence was impossible to miss, even if we were six feet away."

Mr. Cafaro was just one month shy of his 6th year anniversary with the Superior Court, which he joined in February 2015. He was on his way to becoming a federal-certified Spanish-language interpreter, as he had just passed the written federal exam and had been studying hard for the oral test. 

News of Mr. Cafaro's death devastated his fellow interpreters in the court's Language Services Division. Spanish-language interpreters are a close-knit group who share a lounge on the courthouse's 15th floor. For years, it has been their friendly gathering place for traditional potluck lunches, coffee breaks, and engaging conversation. Mr. Cafaro was a regular there.

"We are walking together through an unbelievable loss," Ms. De Salvo said. "We had this feeling of being safe around him, because he was always there for you. That's who Sergio was; he was your father, your big brother, the one you could always count on. We are going to miss him terribly. I can't believe that we're never going to have a cafecitotogether on the 15th floor anymore."

The fact that he died of COVID-19 was heartbreaking to his fellow court interpreters.

Court interpreters have endured many challenges during the pandemic, reporting to work daily as essential workers, in confined and sometimes crowded courtrooms – and, in CCB, alongside an inmate population that has been hard-hit by the virus.

Through all of it, CCB's interpreters, including Mr. Cafaro, had remained dedicated public servants, bridging language barriers for judges, attorneys, inmates, and victims in criminal cases. They also have been resolute in following COVID-19 protocols, wearing masks and engaging in social distancing, even in their favorite lounge. Nonetheless, many court interpreters -- including Mr. Cafaro – believed that Superior Court administrators had not sufficiently enforced COVID-19 protocols for quarantining and had not done enough to protect the health of court interpreters and the public they serve.

Mr. Cafaro began feeling sick on Friday, December 18 – just as the number of COVID-19 cases began skyrocketing in the community and in the courthouse. Within days, he was fighting for his life, placed on life support, at Los Robles Regional Medical Center.

"He gave his life in the line of duty," said a court interpreter.

Ms. De Salvo said that his death would not be in vain. "Let’s honor him by caring more for one another, and by making sure his caring legacy is seen by wearing our masks properly, and avoiding crowds, and gatherings in enclosed spaces. Let’s make sure his sacrifice was not in vain, that his bravery was not for nothing, let’s show that his life matters. Please, until we all get vaccinated, mask up." 

Mr. Cafaro left Argentina and arrived in Los Angeles when he was 8 years old. Before joining the Los Angeles County Superior Court, he worked as a lifeguard for the County of Los Angeles and, before that, had successfully led an English Language School in Buenos Aires, “First American English Laboratory” where he had up to 200 students under his wing. He is survived by his wife Delia, and his only sister, Marisa.

His hobbies included buying and selling cars, more a passion than a part-time job that he never stopped enjoying. He was a soccer fanatic who cheered for Los Argentinos Juniors, one of the world's top soccer clubs, and was lucky enough to have seen in person a young Diego Maradona, the Argentinian superstar, practice. 

He was a Karate black belt who enjoyed growing bonsai trees at his Thousand Oaks home, and who dreamed of visiting Iwo Jima in Japan someday, as soon as the world opened up again.

His colleagues, his CCB family, had a final message for him:

Rest in Peace Sergio. Until we meet again, colega.

All united in solidarity.