by Photo courtesy of Manuel Cavada via Facebook

The life of the beloved long-time community photographer, Vietnam War veteran, father, and friend, Manuel “Memo” Cavada is memorialized in a mural after capturing over 40 years of local Latino history.

A “Tribute to Memo” made its debut to the public on Dec.15, where friends, family, and community members gathered to honor and remember his life. The mural was painted by distinguished community artists, Guillermo “Yermo” Aranda, Salvador “Sal” Barajas with the aid of Artistic Advisor David Avalos and people of all ages throughout San Diego who gained mentorship and an appreciation for Memo’s contributions to society.

The mural stands 10 x 22 feet on the northern exterior wall at the National City Chamber of Commerce and visitor center, facing the historic Morgan Square Plaza in the city Memo called home. The mural is placed less than one block away from Memo’s studio and across the street from Southwestern college. 

This initiative complements various community efforts including the Memo Cavada Scholarship Fund launched by the SUHI Foundation last year. San Diego County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Nora Vargas announced a new Arts and Culture Commission in the county that will continue to highlight people like Memo who make history in their communities. 

“When we learned of the passing of our beloved Memo Cavada, a partnership of local community artists, youth advocates, and civic leaders quickly formed. All of us committed to memorializing Memo through the arts so that future generations could be inspired by his gift of art activism, cultural preservation, public service and social justice.” Memo Cavada Mural Project Planning Committee Chair Jacqueline Luna Reynoso said. 

This public art was made possible by the National City Chamber Foundation with support from the County of San Diego Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, Cordoba Corporation, and the National City Chamber of Commerce. The mural received sponsorship from National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, Supervisor Greg Cox, Vice Chair Nora Vargas, Congressman Juan Vargas, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales, Tony McCune, and many other private and community donors. 

“The mural really embodies who he was and what he leaves for our community. It is my honor to have supported these efforts, and continue to do whatever we can to memorialize his life,” Vargas said. 

Memo was born and raised in National City, where he operated a photo studio for over 45 years. He taught photography at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park, volunteered for countless organizations, and served as the resident photographer at Sweetwater High School for more than three decades. Memo passed away at the age of 76 on Oct.3 following a battle with cancer.  

“My whole life my dad was such an amazing mentor and just opened up paths that I would not have explored otherwise. When he passed, it wasn’t just me who realized how amazing he was, but his community obviously thinks that of him,” Martin Cavada said. 

The mural depicts Memo with his camera in the frame of his hand and is surrounded by the images of his life that were often captured by his camera. From Kimble Elementary where he attended with Aranda, to his military service in the Air Force where he received a Purple Heart, Sweetwater High School graduates, to the monarch butterflies he documented during his travels in Mexico. 

“This is our community and Memo was family,” National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis described him as “the type of person that wanted you in the best light, and wanted to document you so you can have a cherished memory forever.”

Barajas and Soltelo-Solis and retired Southwestern College Theatre Professor William Virchis  shared how Memo would “get the job done” without worrying about payments. 

“Memo was a giant of a man and he only stood 5’4. He had a giant heart and a giant capacity for love. Memo was not a politician but he had the gift of diplomacy that few people have. Memo was not a rich man with money but he was far wealthier than most of us. It was never ‘How much was I going to make?’, but ‘How can I help you?’,” Virchis said. 

Virchis shared that Memo always wanted everyone to write their own stories. 

“He was someone who never took the spotlight and that’s true, You know why? Because he gave us all the spotlight when he was taking a picture,” Virchis said.

Members of the audience were reminded of the Kumeyaay land they occupied and Maestro Ortega thanked the Kumeyaay Nation for the space. A traditional blessing and a traditional Aztec Dance was performed after comments were made by community members. 

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