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In Memoriam: Rigo Padilla-Pérez

Rigoberto ‘Rigo’ Padilla-Pérez

Rigoberto “Rigo” Padilla-Pérez, a two-time UIC alumni and a leader in equitable access for undocumented immigrant students across Illinois and the U.S., is being remembered by all of the community members–on campus and beyond–whose lives he impacted through his work as well as his personal connections.

Among many other achievements during his time at UIC, Padilla-Pérez’s bold advocacy for undocumented immigrant students left a lasting impression that resonates to this day. At the forefront of campus and local organizing starting in 2010, his work helped to bring visibility to the undocumented student struggle.

“I met Rigo in 2009 as a UIC student facing deportation. He was a force and motivator for so many of us,” shared Amalia Pallares, PhD, vice chancellor in the UIC Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Engagement and professor in the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, where Padilla-Pérez’s obtained a Master’s degree. “His courage, at times brutal honesty, genuine heart and political creativity inspired the national campaign that stopped his deportation, as well as the organizing of the Immigrant Youth Justice League and the first Coming Out of the Shadows action in Chicago and the country.”

He continued that work as he confronted Illinois and other states over their efforts to deport students rather than educating them, and remained an admired and adored member of the undocumented youth movement.

“His life’s work was mobilizing the masses to show up and show out,” said Tanya Cabrera, assistant vice chancellor for student inclusion in the UIC Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Engagement. “There are truly no words that could heal the pain and emptiness in the loss of his beloved soul. As we heal and honor him, we plan and organize to continue the work.”

To honor Padilla-Pérez’s legacy, the new UIC Undocumented Student Center will be named after him. With plans to open this November, the center’s commitment to an open door policy that will welcome students to learn about resources and opportunities on campus to support them to degree completion will serve as a poignant reminder of the values that Padilla-Pérez dedicated his life to.

“His tireless efforts to be true to his word in showing up for everyone was something so many who knew and loved him wished to emulate,” Cabrera reiterated. “With his recent transition, the loss to the undocumented student movement was devastating and we wanted to make sure we gave Rigo his roses and sunflowers.”

In memory of LALS alumni Rigo Padilla, by Maria de los Angeles (Nena) Torres, PhD, professor in the UIC Department of Latin American and Latino Studies:

Mayor Brandon Johnson creates the Rigo Padilla Service Award (announcement between the 30-38 minute marks):