National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies honors professor emeritus José Z. Calderón

José Z. Calderón
José Z. Calderón

José Z. Calderón, Pitzer College professor emeritus of sociology and Chicano/a and Latino/a studies, has been named the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) 2019 Scholar, the organization’s lifetime achievement award. 

“Dr. Calderón is the quintessential Chicano activist scholar,” said the NACCS Board in announcing the award. He is “a true representative of this award through his lifetime commitment to the establishment of NACCS, the Community Caucus and his championing of the Chicana and Chicano community with exceptional academic excellence.”

The son of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, Calderón grew up in a small farming town in northern Colorado. In his book Lessons from an Activist Intellectual: Teaching, Research, and Organizing for Social Change, he describes how his experiences inform his approach to teaching and community organizing. “My struggles with learning English and growing up in a poor immigrant farm-worker family became the foundations of language, labor and immigration issues that I passionately took up in my organizing, teaching and research as an activist intellectual in academia,” he writes.   

Calderón earned his PhD in sociology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), focusing his research on community formations. He joined Pitzer College’s faculty in 1991. In his book, he explores his approach to teaching, which recasts students and community participants as both teachers and learners in social-change projects. He shows how this kind of community-based pedagogy engages historically excluded individuals from diverse backgrounds “for whom the educational experience can be either an alienating or empowering experience.”

Calderón’s wide range of expertise includes urban and political sociology, race and ethnic relations, multi-ethnic coalitions, urban community development, critical ethnography and participant observation, language rights, experiential and service learning, and Chicano and Latino communities.

In addition to his teaching at Pitzer, Calderón has been a leading activist in overlapping campaigns in the city of Pomona for immigrant rights and educational justice, such as ending police checkpoints, advocating for voting rights, creating alternatives to gang violence and promoting community schools.

He has received numerous awards, including: the Ambassador Nathaniel and Elizabeth Davis Civil Rights Legacy Award; the “Dreamkeeper Award” from the California Alliance of African American Educators; the California Campus Compact Richard E. Cone Award for Excellence and Leadership in Cultivating Community Partnerships in Higher Education; the “Goddess of Pomona Award” from the City of Pomona, the Michi and Walter Weglyn Chair in Multicultural Studies at Cal Poly University, Pomona; and the United Farm Workers Union “Si Se Puede” award for his lifelong contributions to the farm worker movement. A recent TedX video, Finding Cesar Chavez: A Transformative Moment, was chosen as an Editor’s Pick nationally.  As a community-based activist intellectual, he has published more than 60 articles and studies, as well as two books: Lessons from an Activist Intellectual, and Race, Poverty, and Social Justice: Multidisciplinary Perspectives Through Service Learning.