Immigrant becomes interpreter for family, creates business in Dayton

At a time when the topic of immigration has become somewhat controversial, one local woman has happily made the “melting pot” of the United States her home for decades. And her integration with the culture as well as her ability to develop a thriving business exemplifies the success that many immigrants achieve.

Amelia Rodriguez was born in Lima, Peru, to a father who always loved the idea of living in the United States.

“My father always loved America,” Rodriguez, who has lived in Dayton since 1980, said. “And he had a dream to live here because he thought Peru was behind the times. He simply had an unquenchable desire to be here.”

In fact, Rodriguez said her entire family wanted to immigrate not because they were poor or unable to make a living in Peru, but because they wanted to become Americans.

“My father came here first, and it took him six years to get the rest of the family here,” Rodriguez said.

After immigrating and securing a job with Chrysler in Detroit, Mich., Rodriguez’ father could sponsor her, her mother and her brother. Her two older sisters were not able to move until 20 years later but today, Rodriguez said they have 40 members of their extended family living in the United States – all of them citizens.

When Rodriguez came to Michigan when she was just 10 years old and she spoke no English.

“No one in my family spoke English except my father,” she said. “I learned the language quickly but my mother did not and she fell behind.”

Rodriguez became her mother’s interpreter and by the time she was 13, she was constantly helping her mother navigate through American Life.

“Any immigrant will say that they are always doing a comparison between his or her culture and the way they were raised and how we operate here,” Rodriguez said. “We have this split personality type of life that carries with it the richness of our cultures but at the same time, fully embraces the new culture.”

Rodriguez vividly remembers those early days in the U.S. and how helping her mother with things like paying bills to speaking to doctors and attorneys ended up changing her life. She found that interpreting gave her mother a lot of peace where before she was frustrated and filled with angst.

This experience motivated Rodriguez to become an interpreter professionally and to eventually found a company in Dayton – Vocalink Languages Services — that offers interpreting services in both the written and spoken word.

Starting out as a freelance interpreter, Rodriguez never dreamed she’d one day have a payroll of 300 people, many of them immigrants as well. But Vocalink has been in business for 20 years has grown as the need for interpretation among many U.S. industries has.

“If you think about it, banks must communicate with many non-English speaking customers in both the written and spoken word,” Rodriguez said. “It has become market demand driven. You go into a courtroom or hospital and you see people from many different countries.”

Rodriguez said she is doing exactly what she always thought she would, from the time she was a young girl. “I was able to bring my home business of interpreting to help hundreds of people and translate it into a bigger scope to work with companies,” she said. “Who knew that when I was 13, it would lead to this?”

A true need to be heard and understood continues to drive Rodriguez in her business. She said Vocalink prefers working with native language interpreters because they truly understand the subject matter.

“I wouldn’t dare interpret with my seven years of French experience,” Rodriguez said. “I can carry on a basic conversation, but I would never stand in front of a judge or go to a conference and pretend to be an interpreter. You have to really know your topic.”

Vocalink now has networks worldwide and is able to contact interpreters to help with almost any language. The company was given the 2015 Dayton Business Journal Award for Global Fluency and was named the Supplier of the Year in 2016 by the Ohio Minority Supplier Diversity Council. They were also named the CSA Top 40 Language Service Provider in North American in 2016.

“What people don’t realize is there is a lot of pain in immigration,” Rodriguez said. “Leaving two sisters behind for 20 years was very painful. Some people come as refugees and some want a better life. That’s why there is much diversity here. What fills the U.S. and what fills other countries are unique stories. And there’s a lot of beauty as life evolves.”

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