As photographer, community activist and veteran Manuel “Memo” Cavada was laid to rest Friday, the National City Chamber Foundation announced its plans to raise money for a mural honoring the man who died Oct. 3 after a battle with cancer.
Cavada, 76, was a fixture at San Diego Latino community events, and mourners gathered Friday at La Vista Memorial Park & Mortuary in National City in colorful Mexican-American attire to pay respects.
The foundation and the National City Arts & Culture Collaborative — of which Cavada was a member — is looking to raise $35,000 for a mural, which the organizations describe as “an honor and legacy for the arts and culture community in San Diego and beyond.”
The Sweetwater High School SUHI also has established a scholarship fund for Cavada, a 1962 alumnus. According to the school, he captured the images of thousands of Sweetwater High School students as he served as the official school photographer since the 1980s. The goal is to award at least one scholarship in the amount of $1,000 beginning in 2021 and beyond.
Born at Paradise Valley Sanitarium in National City on May 3, 1944, as the first boy of eight children, Cavada attended Kimball Elementary, National City Junior High and Sweetwater High School. His first job was delivering papers for the San Diego Union and after high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was sent to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
After a high score on an airplane repair test, Cavada was allowed to select an assignment in Sacramento. From there he volunteered for service in Vietnam, thinking he would not see much combat.
In April of 1967, he and fellow San Diegan Frank Macias found themselves under attack by Viet Cong forces on a runway. They dashed away from a plane that was a prime target — only for a U.S. Marine to hold them at gunpoint, thinking they were the enemy. An explosive went off between the three men and Cavada had to pull hot shrapnel from his leg before tending to Macias’ wound.
The two were transported to the 17th Field Hospital in Saigon, where all three men would survive. The Marine found Cavada at the hospital and apologized for the incident. Cavada earned the Purple Heart for his wounds and would serve as best man at Macias’ wedding.
After leaving the Air Force, Cavada attended Sacramento City College, where he took a workshop with legendary photographer Ansel Adams. He returned to San Diego and began teaching photography at Centro Cultural de La Raza in Balboa Park. He caught the attention of the MAAC Project, where Cavada would provide alcohol abuse counseling.
He began volunteering time at Sweetwater High School, and traveled to Mexico taking photos several months a year. Eventually, Cavada gained enough notoriety to become the exclusive photographer for the California Association of Bilingual Educators, eventually taking on the same role for the national association.
From there, Cavada’s status as the San Diego Latino community’s photographic historian solidified. He operated Creative Images photo studio for more than 45 years.
He is survived by his three children, Stephanie Cavada Beer, Martin Cavada and Jennifer Cavada Lu; as well as four grandchildren.
— City News Service