Editor's Note: Adela Fargas passed away at the age of 81 in the morning hours of January 15th, 2018. Below is a profile by Ricardo Muniz that was published in 2015 as part of his Homenaje series.
I found Adela hunched over the back table in her self-named restaurant in Loisada slowly poring over the numbers to see if she had won anything. “Yo juego los números cada día,” she said squinting at me over her eyeglasses while she guarded the table as if St. Michael himself were protecting that organized and contained spread of papers, cards, slips and receipts beneath her with his own sword. “I play the numbers every day.”
“Éste es el fotógrafo, mami. El señor que te va a sacar el retrato,” said her son, Luís, who formally announced me. “This is the man who is going to take your photo for the exhibit.”
“¿Qué retrato ni retrato?” Adela complained with a scowl. “What picture?”
But, before her son could answer, Adela was quickly up and looking for lipstick. “Ay, pero, m’ijo. Yo estoy vieja y fea. ¿Tú ‘tá seguro que quiere’ sacar ese retrato?” she complained with a smile. “Ah, my son. I’m old and ugly. Are you really sure you want to take that picture?”
I did. And, so did Adela. Within two minutes she was “prepped” (she only put on lipstick and quickly ran her fingers through her hair) and every worker in the restaurant joined together to help me capture the moment. One woman got the lipstick for Adela; another cleared the corner table by the front entrance; a third parked herself by my side to give words of encouragement—“Smile, Adela. Show your teeth. They are nice and white.”—and, her son also helped by holding the reflector so we could bounce the outside light back onto her caring face and loving smile.
I only took seven photos of Adela. While I showed them to all of the workers, so they could help decide which one showed her in the best light, Adela told someone to bring me coffee and she personally carved and served me a slice of her famous cheese-based flan. As I wrote down the number of the shot that everyone liked best, a young man walked in and asked if he could buy a dollar’s worth of rice. Adela gave him a full order of rice and beans and refused the dollar.
Casa Adela has been a staple in Loisada, the Spanish version of the Lower East Side, for nearly forty years. Every year, Adela threatens to pack up and move and every year she stays. Many people come to 66 Avenue C to enjoy her famed rotisserie chicken. But, perhaps, Casa Adela has survived all of the changes in the neighborhood these past several decades for just one reason: there really is no place like home.
© Ricardo Muñiz. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 10 April 2015.