July 30, 2012
Essam Elmahgoop, a tireless activist who worked to secure bargaining rights for interpreters and advocate for immigrants and asylum seekers, passed away suddenly from a heart attack on Sunday, July 29 in San Francisco. He was 65.
Elmahgoop was a dear colleague and friend to many interpreters and members of the legal community in the Bay Area and beyond. He lived life with great gusto and commitment.
Elmahgoop was a founding member of the Bay Area Court Interpreters Association, a group which later merged with the California Federation of Interpreters. He was active in lobbying for the Interpreter Act, which granted interpreters employment and bargaining rights. Elmahgoop also served as a member of the first Region 2 bargaining team, negotiating the first labor contract for area court interpreters.
He was a mentor to several younger Arabic interpreters and a leader in the interpreter community who advocated for high professional standards, fair wages and better working conditions.
He was generous with his time, volunteering with torture victims at Survival International, teaching new students from the Middle East at Newcomer High School in San Francisco and working with asylum seekers and tenant evictions at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, Elmahgoop went to public schools and started studying English at age 11. He learned about other cultures while listening to the BBC and Voice of America, and reading English-language magazines.
In 1970 he left Egypt to continue his studies in Germany, earning an MBA in marketing and statistics. Elmahgoop began his life in the United States in 1978. He began working as a certified court interpreter in 1989 and ran a translation agency for many years out of the Ferry Building.
He is survived by his brother in Grass Valley, his sisters in Cairo, a niece and nephew, and many, many friends who will always remember him fondly.
Per Essam’s wishes, his body will be cremated and spread over the ocean in Big Sur. A memorial service is being planned by friends in California.