She'd audition for roles -- mostly "gangbanger's girlfriend" or "gangbanger's wife" -- and never rarely worked because she did not look "Latino enough."
"I also always had to put on a terrible accent, which I cannot do," she recalled to CNN in a recent interview. "'Chuy, put the gun down. Órale!'"
The experience motivated her to be an authentic voice at a time when one was obviously needed. She decided to focus on writing.
"I will write my perspective and it will resonate, hopefully," she said she thought at the time. It worked.
More than 11 years later, her story -- and her family's story -- is now front and center in Netflix's "One Day at a Time," which is currently streaming.
The reboot of the Norman Lear classic packs a lot of story into a simple sitcom package, to the show's benefit. Justina Machado plays a mother and Army veteran named Penelope who is raising two children (Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz) with help from her mother (an electric Rita Moreno).
There's a Schneider is in their lives, too, but he bares little physical resemblance to the original character brought to life by Pat Harrington, Jr. This version, played by Todd Grinnell, is a young, rich lonely hipster who forms a bond with the family.
The Alvarez family is close-knit, Cuban, and a little chaotic.
Calderón Kellett and fellow executive producer Mike Royce ("Enlisted") modeled the relationships after their own lives. Royce drew from his experience with his children to craft Penelope's interactions with her kids, while Calderón Kellett's background fueled the bond between Penelope and her mother.
Calderón Kellett parents came to America in 1962 during Operation Pedro Pan, a two-year effort during which thousands of Cuban children were airlifted to the United States from Cuba following Fidel Castro's rise to power.
Her parents were 15 years old and didn't speak English. They were at the mercy of Catholic organizations set up to help Cuban exiles until Calderón Kellett's grandparents were able to come to the U.S. on Freedom Flights about a year later.
Her parents, at times, worked three jobs, and had a passion for education and the arts.
"I am a product of the American dream," Calderón Kellett said.
On screen, Calderón Kellett's history is told through Moreno's Lydia, who reveals her own rather heartbreaking story in an episode toward the end of the first season.
"This obviously means more than a television show to me," she said. "This means hopefully the start to conversations that can heal."
The series tackles issues in subtle and accessible ways -- much like ABC's "black-ish." (Creator Kenya Barris even attended a few tapings of "One Day at a Time.")
One episode weaves in a storyline about Penelope's struggle to get help from Veteran Affairs. Another tackles equal pay when Penelope finds out a less qualified male co-worker makes the same amount of money as she does. Another features a subplot about a young friend of Penelope's daughter whose parents are deported.
"It's interesting because when we set out to do this show, I didn't set out to be really political with it but it certainly seems like it's a time when these conversations need to be having," she said. "I'm related to people who were on the other side politically and we still love each other and are able to have very educated, smart conversations about what's happening in this country and still love and respect one another despite our differences. And hopefully that reflects on the show."
"One Day at a Time" was shot from April to August in 2016, wrapping about two months before the end of the presidential election. The longer turnaround time required for episodes is a blessing and a curse for a show like "One Day at a Time."
The negative: reacting to a specific event is impossible because by the time the episode made it to Netflix they'd be behind the curve. The positive: they can focus on being evergreen.
"If we're talking about something specific that happened last week, it would date us," she said. "I think these are going to stand the test of time, hopefully."