A day in 1957, the Honorable Judge Caridad F. Rigo '73/J.D. '77 embarked on a new adventure that was going to reunite her with her parents after three years. In the pursuit of a better life for their family, her parents migrated from Cuba to Montclair, New Jersey. Upon Rigo's arrival to New Jersey, she was received by her loving traditional Cuban family in a town where another culture dominated, one that Rigo would now have to learn. Growing up in Montclair, Rigo attended catholic school, where she first started to learn the language, culture and the lifestyle of the United States while maintaining her strong Hispanic traditions at home. Although comprehending the clash of both cultures was a challenge she had to face during her transition, Rigo believes this gave her more openness and discipline throughout her life.
After completing her education at Immaculate Conception High School, Rigo attended Seton Hall University where she obtained her B.A. in Political Science. While she one day dreamed of studying out of state, Rigo ended up finding a home at Seton Hall, "At Seton Hall I never felt alone," she said. The open door policy and the willingness to help that advisors and staff members possessed made a lasting impact on her. Seton Hall gave Rigo a valuable education, loyal friendships and as an Afro-Latina, it also allowed her to advocate for her community through the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership program.
Shortly after graduating from Seton Hall Law School in 1977, she began her career in immigration law private practice. Wanting to help the Hispanic community in different ways, Rigo left that practice to open her own in Passaic, New Jersey. At the time, Rigo was the only Hispanic lawyer in the area that was home to mostly Latin-American immigrants. This was her opportunity to give back to the community by helping those who were now in the same situation she found herself in back in 1957. Her duty to these families not only involved helping them with legal issues but also as a cultural advisor to those who were still trying to adapt to their new life. "For them, being at home was one way and being in school or outside it was completely different. I could really identify with that transition that mainly the children had to make," Rigo commented reflecting on the challenges she faced at a younger age. Family law, specifically juvenile law, became her passion and she made it her obligation to ensure that cultural differences were understood throughout any legal procedure. As a New Jersey deputy attorney general, it was her duty to protect abused and neglected children. Later, as an associate counsel for the Passaic County Board of Social Services, Rigo looked out for families' basic needs and ensured that those services were provided. During the last 14 years of her career, Rigo served as an administrative law judge in New Jersey's Office of Administrative Law where her involvement with childcare continued in the area of special education.
September 15 through October 15 marks the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. When asked what her thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month are, Rigo responded, "it's something new to me." Throughout her childhood in Montclair, N.J., to encounter another Hispanic was a rare event; She said, "we didn't have [English as a Second Language classes] and Hispanic was just unheard of." Mispronunciations of her name, misunderstandings of her background or even eating habits were frequent situations she encountered outside of her home. For Rigo, the dominant mix of her African roots in her ethnicity was the most difficult challenge she had to face as an immigrant growing up in Jersey. While Rigo didn't share a classroom with another Hispanic until her years of law school, she was never discouraged. She was always proud of her ethnic background to be part of such a strong and united community.
As a proud Pirate, Rigo continues to be involved with the University and regularly attends activities with her fellow alumni. "There are two schools I owe everything to, first my high school, Immaculate Conception High School and then Seton Hall University," she noted.
In June of 2017, Rigo received the Many Are One College of Arts and Sciences Service Award for her excellence in her career.
Since retiring, she has been volunteering at her alma mater, Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, N.J. teaching Civics. Her involvement in both schools made it feel like home and provide an enriching social and professional development for her. At Seton Hall, she supports the school as a member of the Pershing Rifles Alumni Club, The Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute and the African American Alumni Association with time and financial commitments.
Rigo's advice to current students is that they should be involved on campus and not be afraid of making new friends. The accomplished aluma says, "know yourself, know your strengths, weaknesses and limits, then work hard to sharpen your strengths and overcome those weaknesses and limits." As an immigrant and advocate for the Latino community, Rigo advises those students being affected by DACA to prioritize their education, "they should not fear and continue no matter what because knowledge is something that no one can take away."