Calderon received his B. A. from the University of Colorado in Communications and his MA and PhD in Sociology from the University of California Los Angeles.
As the son of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, he has had a long history of connecting his academic work with community organizing, student-based service learning, participatory action research, critical pedagogy, and multi-ethnic coalition building.
Born in Madera, Chihuahua, Calderón was brought to the U.S. at a very young age by grandparents who raised him. In school, he was able to hide that he didn’t understand English until one teacher, Mrs. Elder, responded with empathy. Before bilingual education, she worked with him after school asking him to teach her Spanish as she taught him English. “And I know that if Mrs. Elder had not created this equitable environment, then what you would see before you in terms of my development, of being able then to eventually get a Ph.D., would not be a reality today,” he explains.
Along with friends, he opened the Apostles of Justice center in his grandmother’s Ault garage. When Ault High School students were suspended for requesting bi-lingual teachers, the Apostles of Justice helped organize the march that brought 250 protesters to the state capitol.
One of his first jobs after graduating from the University of Colorado in the early '70s was with the Colorado Migrant Head Start program. Calderón also visited the National Headquarters of the United Farmer Workers of America in Delano, California. He still recalls Cesar Chavez’ words: "You have only so much time in your life…And you can easily throw your life away...Or, you can use your life in service to others; empower others in building a more just and equal society.”
In Greeley in the 1970s, Calderon started the Al Frente de Lucha (meaning in the forefront of the struggle), which worked on the UFW boycott of lettuce and grapes. He took California students to work with the UFW, and has also worked with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan or MEChA that promotes Chicano unity and empowerment as well as the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Calderon helped open Greeley’s Sunrise Community Health Center, build the Rodarte Cultural Center, and keep Jefferson High School open. He helped organize Monfort meat cutter workers, start the Welfare Rights organization with Maria Garcia, and began celebrating Cinco de Mayo and September 16th, the day of Mexican Independence.
“Today I'm in my 60s,” Calderón adds, “I can honestly say from my own experience that what Cesar was saying at that time is true…by some chance I were to be at the end of my life tomorrow, for whatever reason, I can truthfully tell you that my life, I could say, has been very meaningful.”
In the American Sociological Association, Calderon has served as chair of the Latino/a Section and was part of the Program Committees for the 2010 Annual Meeting in San Francisco and the 2011 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. In January, 2009, he was presented with the “Dreamkeeper Award” by the California Alliance of African American Educators. For his work in building partnerships between communities and higher education, the California Campus Compact has honored him with the Richard E. Cone Award for Excellence and Leadership in Cultivating Community Partnerships in Higher Education.
In 2003, he was a national finalist for the Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award. Between 2004 and 2006, he was the inaugural holder of the Michi and Walter Weglyn Chair in Multicultural Studies at Cal Poly University, Pomona. The United Farm Workers Union has honored him with their “Si Se Puede” award for his life-long contributions to the farm worker movement. As a community-based participant ethnographer, he has published numerous articles and studies based on his community experiences and observations. 
Recent publications include: “Inclusive Immigration Reform” in Innovation and Equity: Transforming America, MIT Community Innovator’s Lab, November, 2008; an edited book: Race, Poverty, and Social Justice: Multidisciplinary Perspectives Through Service Learning, Stylus Publishing, 2007; an article in the edited book, “Linking Critical Democratic Pedagogy, Multiculturalism, and Service Learning to a Project-Based Approach;” “Organizing Immigrant Workers: Action Research and Strategies in the Pomona Day Labor Center", in Latino Los Angeles, (edited by Enrique C. Ochoa and Gilda Laura Ochoa), 2006; Lessons From an Activist Intellectual: Participatory Research, Teaching, and Learning For Social Change," in Latin American Perspectives, January, 2004 and republished in Ethnic Studies Research: Approaches and Perspectives by editor Timothy P. Fong, 2008; “Inclusion or Exclusion: One Immigrant’s Experience and Perspective of a Multicultural Society,” in Minority Voices, edited by John Meyers, Allyn and Bacon, 2004; “Partnership in Teaching and Learning: Combining the Practice of Critical Pedagogy With Civic Engagement and Diversity,” in Peer Review, American Association of Colleges and Universities, Spring, 2003 and republished together with another article, “Connecting Classroom Pedagogies to Community-Based Service Learning” in Diversity and Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring, 2008.
As president of the San Gabriel Valley chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Calderon helped promote more visibility of Latinos in all aspects of city and county government.
As a co-chair of the Multi-Ethnic Task Force and chair of the Alhambra School District Human Relations Advisory Committee, he helped advance coalition-building efforts aimed at the establishment of multicultural and conflict-resolution programs in the local high schools.
Anti Klan rally
On August 5, 1980, independent Presidential candidate John Anderson compared himself to Franklin Roosevelt . He said Roosevelt didn’t have a plan to solve the country’s economic problems when he came into office, but that he used common sense. Anderson said he shares with Roosevelt a basic commitment to action. This before the National Governor’s Conference in an appearance, which was marred by some egg throwing.
Anderson was midway through his speech at the National Governor’s Conference, when the incident occurred. A member of the Communist Workers Party ran to the front of the meeting room screaming at Anderson and North Carolina Governor James Hunt and threw eggs at both of them. Both eggs missed their mark, and security agents quickly subdued the man, identified as 33-year-old Jose Calderon.
Calderon was protesting the killings of five Communist Worker colleagues in North Carolina. Despite tight security, he got into the room on an official guest credential. 
By the early 1980s, Judy Chu and Mike Eng had settled in Monterey Park, which was experiencing an influx of immigrants from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, sparking a backlash among some longtime residents who sought a ban on Chinese-language storefront signs. When a divided City Council voted in 1986 to support a resolution endorsing, among other things, English as the nation's official language, Chu, by then on the school board, and Eng helped form the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park.
"Judy and Mike were always trying to find ways to bring people together," said Jose Calderon, another member of CHAMP who is now an associate professor at Pitzer College in Claremont. They started "harmony days" to celebrate the city's various cultures, and they led a petition drive that moved the council to rescind its divisive resolution.
"A conversation with Judy Chu and Jean Quan"
This event was held Sunday July 10, 2011, Empress Pavilion, LA Chinatown.
The Host Committee consisted of
- Rep. Judy Chu, US Congresswoman
- Mike Eng, California Assemblymember
- Stewart Kwoh
- Kent Wong
- Jose Zapata Calderon
- Jai Lee
Annual Cesar Chavez Breakfast
Friday 30 March 2012, Jose Calderon organized the Annual Latino and Latina Roundtable Cesar Chavez Breakfast , at The Avalon, 1098 W McKinley Ave, Pomona.
- In keeping with the tradition of honoring leaders in our region who have exemplified the principles and values of Cesar Chavez, the Roundtable is honoring Congresswoman Judy Chu, immigrant rights leader Emilio Amaya, and Pomona Unified School District Superintendent Richard Martinez.
OccupyGreeley, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Unitarian/Universalist church cosponsored a presentation by "legendary activist" Dr. José Zapata Calderón August 20, 2012, at the Isla Bonita restaurant in Greeley, CO.
Arrested in protests over documentation firings
In a show of opposition to Pomona College’s decision to terminate 17 employees who could not verify their employment documentation before a December 1, 2011 5 p.m. deadline, 15 supporters of the terminated employees were arrested for refusing to move from the middle of an intersection this morning. The arrests were part of a large protest that drew more than 100 students, workers, professors, union organizers and Claremont residents.
After hearing a series of speeches by fired workers and labor advocates, the protesters marched to Alexander Hall, where they picketed. They then moved to the intersection of Fourth Street and College Avenue, close to Pomona President David Oxtoby's home, where 15 of them sat down in the street to carry out a planned act of civil disobedience.
CPD officers arrested these 15 protesters, a group that included current 5C students as well as alumni and Pitzer College professor José Calderón, after they ignored repeated commands to disperse. As they were being handcuffed, these protesters called the names of fired workers and denounced what they described as an unjust decision by the Pomona administration, while a crowd of supporters chanted “Sí, se puede” and “This is what democracy looks like” from the sidewalk.
“Many years from now, I know your children and students will ask you, ‘Where were you on that day when they fired those workers that brought the food to your table?’” Calderón said in a speech at Frary, just after announcing that he was prepared to be arrested. “All of you are going to be able to say to your children, ‘I was there and I was fighting injustice.’”
“I’m ready to sacrifice some things in order to create a different atmosphere for Pomona College workers in the future,” said Davis Saul PO ’14, who was also arrested.
In addition to the support of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Pomona’s terminated workers have received a message of support from Judy Chu, a Southern California Democrat in the House of Representatives. Bryan Urias, a member of Chu’s staff, attended today’s protest on behalf of the congresswoman, who may soon become Claremont’s representative because of citizen-led redistricting.
“She wanted me to be here to let all of you know, to let the workers know, to let Pomona College know, that she is watching what is going on and she is disgusted with the process that happened here,” Urias said.
Urias added that Chu had personally called President Oxtoby to ask him to reconsider his decision to terminate employees who could not update their documentation by Dec. 1. He also said that Chu’s office intended to help the terminated workers who wanted to fix their documentation and get re-hired by Pomona.
“This is one of the richest colleges in the country,” Francisco Duenas PO ’99 told the crowd inside Frary. “And yet today, in order to be able to not pay a few more dollars to their workers, this college is betraying its trust and betraying its morals. This college is selling its soul.”
“We do need to keep on fighting,” Dueñas added. “I think that this is only the beginning, and we’re going to be here until the end.”
In 2012, Calderon was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
- i-newswire, OccupyGreeley Welcomes Back Legendary Activist Dr. José Zapata Calderón
- Pitzer bio, accessed Jan. 13, 2013
- Pitzer bio, accessed Jan. 13, 2013
- [www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=10&ved=0CF4QFjAJ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.compact.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2Fhistory-civics-service%2Fpdf%2FLAPfinalarticle.04.pdf&ei=AKUhUcr_Ha_smAXEnoGoCg&usg=AFQjCNFN34n0nthVjaJbbcSCMWdyCgEykQ; Lessons from an Activist Intellectual Participatory Research, Teaching, and Learning for Social Change by José Calderón]
- [Denver Post]
- [ttps://a248.e.akamai.net/7/1635/50139/1d/origin.nbclearn.com/files/nbcarchives/site/pdf/3375.pdf, NBC Learn, Independent Candidate John Anderson Egged by Communist]
- wiqaable,com, Former UCSB Activist Judy Chu = 1st Chinese American Woman Elected to Congress
- Wherevent, Annual Cesar Chavez Breakfast
- The Student Life, By Jeff Zalesin, Fri, Dec 2 2011
- i-newswire, OccupyGreeley Welcomes Back Legendary Activist Dr. José Zapata Calderón