It’s historic. The mere history of our neighborhood in its fluctuating state. There are places where it would seem that time has stood still, everything has remained the same. It’s iconic. If we close our eyes and try to create images of Little Havana, it will be there, the domino tables, the players congregating – for the most part men of an advanced age, in their Guayaberas, with their hats and cigars... and let’s not forget the palm trees… A relic among relics, one of the fundamental pillars in the creation of a Latin Quarter here in the City of Miami back in the 60’s and 70’s. Máximo Gómez Park is better known as “El Parque del Domino” or "Domino Park". In the very heart of Little Havana, on Southwest 8th Street and 15th Avenue, between the Tower Theater and McDonald’s. It was founded by a group of Cuban ex-political prisoners after the Bay of Pigs Invasion (in 1961) over what was once an empty parking lot. It was then incorporated into the City of Miami in 1976. Since then it has had a couple of face-lifts and make-overs which in reality have not really affected it because the park always looks the same.
Domino Park is named after Generalissimo Máximo Gómez who having been born in the Dominican Republic, had lead the Cuban rebel forces next to Jose Marti when Cuba gained its independence from Spain. It is said that if he was not the first president of Cuba, it was because he chose not to be. It is also said that over these domino tables many discussed and developed plans to remove Fidel from power, but without the help of the CIA. It is here in this park where a strong Caribbean tradition is kept alive that is more than just a game.
It is assumed that it was the Chinese who originated this tile game that dates back to the 1100’s. It was the Italian sailors who brought the game back with them to Europe and in the 19th century the game of Dominoes, as we now know it, was spread across the European continent and then brought here. Playing Dominoes is freeing to some. It is more than a simple tile game; it is where you keep a strong sense of pride, not so much in the personal sense but in the collective, the cultural sense. It is a heritage passed down by our elders; this game that has been around for centuries and crossed an ocean to come here identifies us.
The park is reserved for those who are 55 years old and older and to participate in the games you must have a membership card. Wagered games are not allowed and you are to respect the park. Visitors are always very welcomed.
One could say that today Domino Park serves two primary functions. The first is to provide its elderly neighbors a public space, out in the open, designed and conditioned to their wants and needs. They can gather and come together through the game in proper environment. They can come out in any season of the year and there are also tables where they can play a game of chess.
Its second function would be that of a tourist attraction, representative of Little Havana as well as all the Antillean migrations to the United States mainly to its east coast. Multitudes of tourists come daily whether on tour buses or on their own. And everyone brings their camera…
Here the members know it, they participate not only in the games but also in the infinite narratives of tourists as they pass through our city. They are serious at game time, but they loosen up for the cameras and are warm and charismatic. They are aware that their tradition, their cultural heritage carries great value, that by “being there” and by “connecting” they form a part of a bigger part of history and in a greater way, of the American Dream which is not only to work but also to enjoy life. All through what to some would seem to be just a simple tile game.
Taking a trip out to “El Parque del Dominó” will show us the importance of having a place for recreation of this type for our elderly neighbors and all there is to learn from them. It is the history of our communities in this nation forging on...
We make history day by day. I ask myself - in ten years, how much of this will still be the same? Changes in demographics can be aggressive and pose a threat not to the park per say, but to the members who live in the area. Changes are sure to come but who or what will be affected remains to be seen. Until then I will think about the day in which I myself can become a member of this group. I just can’t wait!
I hope that “El Parque del Dominó” will remain on this same corner for many more generations to come.