“He was a burro!” The "R's" rolled off the tongue of a smiling Bill Virchis. “He was this mule with the backpack to make everybody better!”
Virchis sat in the shade at La Vista Memorial Park in National City thinking about his friend, Manuel “Memo” Cavada, a local photographer who was a fixture to the Latino community, capturing many of their proudest moments -- graduation parties, quinceañeras, weddings.
“I’ve known him for almost 60 years, from high school,” signed Virchis. “It was incredible to be around him.”
Memo Cavada, an Air Force Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, died on Oct. 3, 2020, after battling cancer. The long-time community photographer from National City was 76.
“There was no place that you would go in the Latino community where Memo was not taking pictures,” said Virchis.
Anyone who scrolled through Cavada’s online photograph catalog would find pictures from government groundbreakings to celebrations, from charity events to peaceful marches, and from portraits of students to memorial services for friends.
“He was always behind the camera,” said Virchis. “He would not stop until he got it perfect.”
Friday, friends and family gathered at La Vista Memorial Park to celebrate Cavada’s life.
“He was the kindest, most loyal, the most generous human being on this planet,” added Virchis. “He would travel with his backpack like a gold miner to find the gold in each person. That’s who he was.”
Virchis said Cavada continued looking for the gold in people while he quietly battled cancer.
“He never complained. He never ever complained. Never said, ‘Feel sorry for me, man,’” his friend said. “And he taught a lot of people. I hope they the mantle to document our community like he did.”
Memo Cavada received the Purple Heart after he was wounded in the Vietnam War. He studied photography in Sacramento before returning home to National City where he documented the community with thousands of photographs during a career that spanned more than three decades.