Pitzer Spotlights

2007-2008 Spotlight Archives

Joaquin Calderon ’99:
The Infectious Spirit of Social Justice

Calderón facilitates a retreat that brought together over eighty professors/teachers from California community colleges, Cal-States, UC's and private colleges to discuss how to integrate labor studies into their specific curriculums.

Pitzer College’s infectious spirit of social justice and his study abroad experiences pushing through community misfortunes have led Joaquin Calderon '99 to a career in labor and workforce development, and present position as project coordinator with the Downtown Labor Center.

Reflecting on his time at Pitzer, Joaquin said that his father, Professor Jose Calderon, and Professor Nigel Boyle’s hands-on approach courses were very influential in his growing interest in the labor field. Joaquin experienced an actualization of Pitzer’s “act locally, think globally” motto during his experiences studying abroad.

In Venezuela, Joaquin watched the students organize after bus fare was raised one penny. During his later abroad work in Costa Rica, Joaquin “witnessed the powerful environmental movement spearheaded by the Costa Rican people and the youth in particular.” His subsequent independent study in Nicaragua placed him with a political veteran host father. Then, in his second week, Hurricane Mitch struck and devastated the area. “I worked alongside many Sandinista revolutionaries during the disaster evacuating entire communities to safer ground,” Joaquin said. When told he was to be prematurely returning to Costa Rica, Joaquin did not want to leave his community members. “My Sandinista comrades sat me down and they demanded that I return to where I could be most effective. I realized that if I wanted to help Nicaragua, I needed to start by improving the conditions and consciousness in my own community.”

Calderón plays congas for an Afro-Latin Jazz Band, which was showcased at the National Association of Musicians and Merchants Show (NAMM) in January 2007.

Working for two years to unionize the McConnell Bistro workers at Pitzer also paved the way for Joaquin’s growing interest in the labor movement. “It inspired me to pursue a job in labor. My privilege could be used to help others,” he said. “I began working with the largest and fastest growing labor union in the country. Unions can be bureaucratic and top down, which can quickly deflate the romantic feelings of radical change and revolution we sometimes leave college with.”

The doe-eyed graduate phenomenon has led Joaquin to the development of a program for recent graduates to complete intensive training to prepare them for successful careers in the labor force. Plans involve a partnership with the Dolores Huerta Institute and AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, and connections with colleges similar to Pitzer that promote social responsibility. Joaquin said he hopes to draw creative students who are passionate about social activism and improving the lives of working class citizens.

“The labor movement provides the space to build coalitions amongst workers throughout the world. International worker solidarity will reverse and resist the pillage offered by multinational corporations to most developing countries,” said Joaquin. “It will also be a key to saving the world.”

—Jessica Schwartz ’08