Six hundred miles from his native Jamaica, in a converted back-alley warehouse on the edge of the city, Earl Simpson has found pieces of home.
It’s not the food or drink, although piping hot jerk chicken and rum is served at the club’s bar. It’s not the many colorful maps of the Caribbean that hang on the yellow walls. It’s not even the reggae music pulsing from the disc jockey booth in the corner.
For Simpson, home is about community and the centuries-old game it shares—dominoes.
On a recent Friday night at the United Sports and Social Club that Simpson built, 12 large men sat around three card tables in the center of the room, laughing, telling stories and slapping tiny white tiles hard onto the playing surface. Bang!
“Once you start playing, it becomes a part of you, like food, like music,” he said.
Dominoes has long been part of the family dynamic in Latin and Caribbean cultures. The game has passed down through the generations, fathers and sons, grandmothers and granddaughters. For children, the dominoes table introduced them to counting, math, competition and strategy. It opened lines of communication. It was their entree into the adult world.
But some South Florida immigrants like Simpson say the appeal of dominoes seems to be waning among the youngest generation growing up with video games, poker and other hobbies in the United States.
Dominoes is not the first, nor likely the last, cultural touchstone to fade away when families leave their homelands and put down roots someplace else. But those fighting to preserve the game of dominoes see more than a loss of tradition, they see a loss of family.
ESPN began airing a weekly hourlong dominoes program on its Spanish-language network last year, and attendance is rising at the country’s marquee international tournaments. Locally, the Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach will be the latest racetrack to begin hosting weekly cash dominoes tournaments on Nov. 10. The kennel club is even hosting a free cash-prize tournament Saturday at the SalsaFest event in Greenacres.