This shouldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be an “In Memory” article about Cesar, but a “Meet the Writer”. It was one of the many ideas Cesar and I had during the last four years of our work together on SacPress—to feature Sacramento Press writers in Q&A style articles so our community of readers could get to know them better. At yet here I am, with my heart breaking, having to write an In Memory article on Cesar instead.
Cesar tragically passed away unexpectedly in late November. Not only is this a loss to the daily workings of Sacramento Press because he was the heart and soul of who we are as a newspaper and where we want to go, but this also is an unbearable personal loss to all who knew him.
Cesar has been my Editorial Assistant and a talented writer and photographer for Sacramento Press since 2015. He had a passion for the arts, primarily covering local musicians, concerts, music festivals, and artists. He was also an editorial perfectionist, daily editing and readying articles for publication and promoting them on social. He loved our city and was community-minded, driven by a desire to see both thrive. One of his favorite things to do was talking and connecting with people, and anyone who met him remembers his positive and friendly disposition that drew you in and just made you feel good about life.
We had so many plans in the works, so many things left to do, so many more ideas and columns and stories to generate. And he had so much more life to live. Gone much too soon, the world lost someone special in November, someone irreplaceable.
I was asked to give a eulogy for Cesar at his Mass service last week. For those who would like to get to know Cesar more, I hope you will take a few minutes to read on. This is not how I wanted you to “meet” Cesar. But it is all I have to offer right now. I hope you, too, will see what an amazing person he was and how missed he will be.
I am the Editor and owner of Sacramento Press, a local online newspaper for which I now realize the single greatest blessing it has had in my life is that it has given me the opportunity to get to know and work with Cesar. Cesar started as an intern for me in 2015. I remember reading Cesar’s first article and instantly recognizing his talent as a writer. The article was a feature on a local artist who painted landscapes of the Sacramento Valley. In the article, Cesar quoted the artist as saying, “At the ocean there’s always miles and miles and miles of uninterrupted view, but in the valley there’s always something. There’s a fence post, there’s a wire, there’s a tree in the middle of the field, there’s mountains on either side. So it’s very much me trying to say, ‘What’s beautiful here, how can I get to know it, how can it become a part of who I am?’”
Little did I know how perfectly that quote would summarize Cesar’s approach to life. He was thoughtful, curious, passionate, contagiously optimistic, and when faced with a story to tell, a difficult topic to discuss, or a person to talk to, he would approach it by examining every element of the circumstance and ask “What’s beautiful here, how can I get to know it, and how can it become a part of who I am?”
As we grapple with losing this person who meant so much to so many, our hearts immediately feel crushed under the weight of sorrow and tears. And that’s ok. The depth of angst of loss that we all feel right now is a testament to who Cesar was. It gives us pause and has us asking, “What’s beautiful here, how did I get to know Cesar—or better yet, how did Cesar get to know me—and how did he become a part of who I am?”
Cesar had an infectiously bright spirit and a way of wedging himself into your heart. I think so many here today would agree that over time he became a part of who you are. So many people spoke at the Candle Lighting last night and what you kept hearing is “Oh, his smile. He was always smiling. I miss that smile.” I, too, was all too familiar with that smile.
I met with Cesar every week to discuss upcoming articles and to make plans for Sacramento Press. What many of you probably don’t know is that it’s only been Cesar and I running the newspaper for four years. We have a handful of writers, but every aspect of running the newspaper has been on me as the owner and Cesar as my Editorial Assistant and writer. During his time at SacPress, he wrote 141 articles and edited countless more. If you go to his personal Facebook, every post is SacPress, SacPress, SacPress, SacPress. He got to interview famous people, get VIP backstage passes at concerts, fine tune his photography skills, prove how much of perfectionist he was, and network with people all throughout the community of Sacramento. He believed in the power of community and was looking forward to expanding that element of who we are. He loved what he did at Sacramento Press.
For me, it has been a rewarding venture, but at times an overwhelmingly exhausting task. There were days I met with Cesar and said, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” And he’d look at me and he’d smile. And he’d say, “It’s ok. We can do this. Let’s keep making plans. Let’s keep trying. We’ll succeed, I can feel it. I’ll help you.” It was his smile and optimism that kept me going, that every single week gave me a new energy and new excitement to continue. He has been my lifeline, my cheerleader, my dreamcatcher, my friend. I don’t think I even realized how close I was to Cesar until he was gone.
Many of you will say the same, but will have your own version of who he was to you. I had the opportunity to talk about Cesar with his mom last night. We spent almost an hour telling stories and remembering the characteristics that made him so unique and so special. Elisa asked me to share with you some of those characteristics and some the things that she wants you to know about him and the things he did that reflected the passions he had.
When Cesar was in middle school, Elisa told me that she got a call from his teacher. “You can’t do Cesar’s homework for him,” the teacher said. Confused, Elisa said she didn’t help him and didn’t know what she was talking about. But having his parent’s help on a writing assignment was the teacher’s only logical conclusion because it seemed impossible for a middle school student to have such advanced and well-articulated thoughts. That’s when Elisa said she first recognized Cesar’s talent as a writer.
But Cesar didn’t want to be a writer. All through high school he said he wanted to be a lawyer. He even finished his Gen Ed in college with the intention of continuing on that path. But one day Cesar told his mom that he no longer wanted to be a lawyer, but a journalist. Elisa said, as a mom, she worried about his decision, because a lawyer has so much security and journalism is a hard field to get into. “It’s not about the money, mama,” Cesar told her, “My life is not about me. It’s about helping people. It’s about making a difference.” Seeing his heart for other people gave Elisa the security she longed for—the security of knowing his heart was in the right place and while he may not go as far financially, he would spend his life making a meaningful impact in other’s lives and sharing his talent with the world.
Cesar also wrote a children’s book. It’s about a young fox who gets lost and the moon helps direct her through the forest. He was only fixing a few illustrations before attempting to get it published. He was also working on a book about African Americans, a story nobody else knew, Elisa said. And his talents didn’t stop there. He had a passion for videography—he even spoke to me about his plans to start his own business centered around storytelling through videography. That passion led him to script writing. Within the time he found between writing a children’s book, writing a nonfiction book, editing articles, managing social media and covering concerts for Sacramento Press, he was also writing a script for a movie about the settlement of California. He was always doing, always working on projects that fulfilled his passion, always dreaming about the next thing. Loyal, honest, and transparent is how Elisa told me friend after friend after friend described Cesar.
A few days ago I was having a hard time coping with the loss of this person who reminded me that dreams are worth fighting for. Needing to do something to distract me, I started decorating my Christmas tree. As I hung the lights, I turned on Christmas music, and a song came on called “Hope of Israel.” It’s a beautiful, soul-stirring instrumental song. As I listened to it, I thought to myself what an amazing gift this song is. Life is a gift, I thought, and the fact that we’re able to be moved by some beautiful aspect of it, is a gift. And then I thought about Cesar. Cesar was a gift, I thought. His smile was a gift. His laugh and his bright optimism was gift. His love for people, his passion for telling stories, his soft heart that cared more about others than himself was a gift.
So as we mourn deeply about the loss of our precious Cesar, we should pause and ask ourselves, “What’s beautiful here?” The answer is easy. What’s beautiful is that Cesar was a gift that will keep on giving if those who knew him live like he lived.
If Cesar were here today, his life advice to everyone here would be “Do something amazing.” Now when I say that I don’t mean quit your job and travel the world—however, if you wanted to do that I know that Cesar would be fully supportive! What I do mean, though, is look around you. The people in your life—your friends, your family, your spouse, your children, your co-workers—they are your “something amazing.” Savor them. Get to know them. Invest in them. Your time—how you spend it, the dreams you pursue, the people you invest in—is your “something amazing.” Spend it well. Do amazing things. Be grateful to live another day and to be able to find the beauty in life. Your faith also is your “something amazing”—believing that God cares about your sorrow and your joy. It was Jesus himself, after all, who said, “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.” Know that God sees your mourning and wishes to comfort you, to help you find joy even amid the sorrow, and to give you the strength to go on and “do something amazing”.
And as a good friend of Cesar’s shared last night, Cesar has one more thing to say to you all. And that is “No olvides sonreír”: “Don’t forget to smile.”