Orlando, Florida. The faces of the four players reflected seriousness. They barely blinked. The hands of the clock, about to mark 10:00 p.m., harmonized with the only other sound in the room: the setting of dominoes on the table. Despite the hour, the approach of the quartet showed the same vivacity as when they began the day, in the early hours of the afternoon.
The silence was interrupted by an abrupt commotion, a preamble that led to a vehement debate of who won and why. So it is that the Venezuelan Anneth Gudiño and the Puerto Rican Jacobo Nieves, among dozens of other Latinos, liven up their nights. And it is that they have found in the Domino Museum and headquarters of the Domino USA club -located at 615 F Herdon Avenue- a unique meeting point, because between the chips and the competitive spirit they have recovered a little piece of their homeland.
“(Here) I feel as if I were in my country. You feel like family,” Gudiño described. Much more than a hobby, dominoes are for her the thread that has sutured the wounds in her heart after suffering the death of her son, assassinated in Venezuela at the age of 16. In the same way, Nieves, a native of Aguas Buenas, found peace in the headquarters, since she also suffered the murder of her three children. She assured that nothing has managed to alleviate her grief like dominoes and camaraderie at the club.
This meeting point was born from the passion of Manuel Oquendo from Ponce and Maggie Cruz from Utuade, united “in dominoes and in love”. And there are many achievements they have accumulated.
In the first place, the International Domino Federation (FDI), chaired by Oquendo, broke its own Guinness World Record in 2008, since in March they were recognized for having the largest number of people playing simultaneously and, four months later, they they themselves exceeded the number. Added to this are the multiple medals that have been won in national and international tournaments.
In addition to the Domino USA club, the couple founded the Museum to display different tiles that Oquendo has collected over the years, either through gifts on trips around the world or by participating in auctions.
On display are nearly 700 sets of dominoes worth over $1.2 million. Some belonged to American soldiers who fought in the Civil War and others to rocker Jimi Hendrix.
It also houses a set made of 24-karat gold, silver, one in Braille and the smallest dominoes in the world, created in the municipality of Jayuya.
In their positions of president of the Federation and of the Domino USA club, Oquendo and Cruz have traveled the world and participated in competitions in countries as far away as Russia and as far away as Abkhazia.
“We understand each other with the language of dominoes. That is a religious experience,” Cruz said with a laugh.
They also managed to get the ESPN Deportes television channel to show dominoes through their lenses, positioning the game as a sport. Meanwhile, Oquendo has worked alongside other FDI-affiliated national presidents to create universal rules.
For the couple, the scope of dominoes knows no limits. For this reason, Oquendo trained teachers to teach their students dominoes and thus promote mathematical agility. In addition, he promotes sports in the scientific field.
Both have been involved in multiple activities that benefit disadvantaged communities in Central Florida.
“It’s not just playing dominoes. It is being present in the community,” Cruz said.
“Dominoes brought us together”
Without knowing each other, Cruz and Oquendo had a passion for dominoes since they were children. Fate guided them to take similar paths in life until they met in adulthood.
Cruz studied pedagogy at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and, upon completing his high school, enlisted in the Air Force. After long years without playing dominoes, she rekindled her love of the game while she was stationed in North Dakota.
“It was hellishly cold there. The only thing that was done was play dominoes Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, “she said, laughing when she mentioned that she became” a teacher in New York and Panama, but nothing like dominoes.
For his part, Oquendo enlisted in the Army where he continued “the tradition” of playing dominoes and, when he joined the IDF, he worked as a postman.
It was in a local tournament where Cruz and Oquendo met. They fell in love, got married and fostered what brought them together: dominoes.
“He had his life apart and I had mine. But, dominoes brought us together: in dominoes and in love”, stated Cruz, who together with Oquendo share four daughters and three grandchildren.