Crossing the Line
A Tribute to Cesar Chavez - An American Hero

by Gail Desler

Cesar E. Chavez (1927-1993)

"Cesar Chavez is one of the heroic figures of our time."
Senator Robert F. Kennedy

Focus Question: What Makes a Hero?

Cesar Chavez has received worldwide recognition as an American hero. In his lifetime, he inspired and led thousands of farmworkers in the nonviolent movement for social justice. Schools, streets, and parks are named in his memory. Monuments, murals, and even a U.S. postal stamp have been designed in his honor. The California Department of Education has declared March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. What makes Cesar Chavez a hero?

Task 1: Presenting Cesar Chavez Day - Group Project

You and your teammates will be responsible for designing an oral presentation for younger children at your school (grades K-3) to explain Cesar Chavez Day. As a team, you will decide what you consider to be the most important lessons to be learned from the life of Cesar Chavez. To help your young audience better understand what you are talking about, you will need to create some visuals to go along with your oral presentation. Choose one of the following:

  • An Illustrated Big Book on the Life of Cesar Chavez - Your librarian or kindergarten teachers are sure to have some examples of "big books." Include a minimum of six key events. Design your book in the style of a picture book, with an illustration on each page accompanied by a minimum of words. The illustrations themselves should carry much of the meaning. Make sure your sentences (two to three sentences per illustration) are language rich. You might want to read through some pictures books (I recommend books by Kevin Henkes, Patricia Polacco,and Jane Yolen) and see for yourself that picture books are NOT "baby books."
  • An Illustrated Poster on the Life of Cesar Chavez - Start with a large piece of butcher paper or poster board.
    • In the center of the poster, draw a large picture of Cesar Chavez
    • Pick six key events from Cesar's life. Around the edges of the poster, write a brief summary or caption for each event
    • Include a drawing or symbol to illustrate each event

  • A Multimedia Presentation (PowerPoint, HyperStudio, KidsPix) on the Life of Cesar Chavez - Refer to Tips for Making a Multimedia Presentation. Include a minimum of six key events. Your first step in the research process is to record your key points on a storyboard (a rough draft for a multimedia project). In addition to text, be sure to include titles and/or subtitles for each slide and identify your source for each graphic. If you are including additional elements such as sounds, pictures, or movies, be sure to record where these sources are located (URL, title or CD-ROM or video).

Begin the process by agreeing as a group how you would explain the term "hero" to others. Remember: your presentation should answer the question "why is Cesar Chavez remembered as a hero?" How does each key event you have selected support your definition of a "hero"?

At the end of your Big Book or multimedia project or on the back of your poster, include a bibliography of your sources (correctly sited, of course!) Be sure to refer often to the scoring guides for both your visual presentation and your oral presentation.

Useful Sites

Task 2: A Meeting of the Minds - Partner Project

The Civil Rights Movement of the sixties changed history forever. Cesar Chavez was a key player in the movement to improve the rights of workers of all races. Who else throughout our nation's history has contributed to the Civil Rights Movement? Your task is to pick another hero or heroine who was willing "to cross the line" for justice and to investigate his or her story. You and your partner will then create a Meeting of the Minds Dialogue by developing and writing down a conversation he or she would have enjoyed having with Cesar Chavez.

To start your research, you might want to read Farmworkers Remember Martin Luther King, Jr. Although they never met, Dr. King's commitment to a nonviolent struggle had a profound impact on Cesar Chavez. What if these two could meet? What would Martin Luther King want to say to or ask Cesar Chavez? What would Cesar Chavez want Dr. King to know about the farm laborer's fight for equality? What qualities would they admire in each other?

Throughout his lifetime, Cesar Chavez delivered many speeches that inspired and gave hope to others. Listen to several sound clips (audio clip 1, audio clip 2, audio clip 3, audio clip 4) and read through Quotes by Cesar Chavez or Education of the Heart. You may incorporate one of his actual quotes into your dialogue. Use the Meeting of the Minds Scoring Guide as your check-off list.

Useful Sites

Task 3 - What Makes a Hero? - Individual Project

Who are your heroes? What qualities do they have? What "lines" have they crossed?

Your final task is to write an essay on a person you consider to be a hero. Be sure to include the qualities on which you based your decision, with examples to support each quality. Use the Scoring Guide for the Hero Essay to help organize your thoughts and writing.

Useful Sites

Learning Advice

Keep in mind that you will be presenting your project to a younger audience (after you do a practice run for your teacher and classmates!) Will your presentation keep the attention of kindergarten - third graders? Each team member will be expected to participate equally in the oral presentation.

In order to meet your presentation deadlines, you will need to work together cooperatively and make every minute of classroom and at-home research time count. Each of you will be completing a Group Participation Evaluation for Task 1 and Task 2.


As you begin the project, read through the specific scoring guide for each task. Be sure to use the scoring guides as a final checklist.


Compare your hero to those nominated by other classmates. Do you find many similarities? How about differences? Do you think heroes are perfect people in all ways, or can they have their flaws like other people? After completing this project, what is your personal definition of a hero?

Note: Cesar E. Chavez's image is used with permission of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.