Dominoes were thrown around, cigar smoke hung in the air and rapid-fire Spanish insults were thrown around. This wasn’t at your Abuelo’s backyard, it was Mi Apá’s parking lot.
On Saturday, Mi Apá Latin Café and Bulla Cubana hosted their first domino tournament. Bulla Cubana, which translates to Cuban Noise, is a Cuban art and culture festival that began March 9 and finished its three-week-long event at Mi Apá.
“We try to support the spread of Cuban culture and art whenever we can,” Peter Ynigo, the owner of Mi Apá said.
Dominoes is a traditional Cuban game where players match the dots from the pieces until they run out of dominos in their hand.
The tournament brought out about 150 players from across North Central Florida, said Randy Batista, the founder of Bulla Cubana. Cubans and Americans alike from neighboring cities, like Jacksonville and Tampa, came to show their support and partake in the traditional Cuban game.
“Every afternoon in Cuba, people pull their tables out and they scream and yell,” Batista said. “Dominos is a big part of our culture.”
Originally started in 2017, Bulla Cubana aims to celebrate Cuban-American ties in the North Central Florida region, Batista said. This year’s theme was “Cuban Ingenuity,” which showcased the creativity of Cuban residents’ inventions throughout political instability. The festival’s events included an exhibit at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention and a concert at the Historic Thomas Center.
Rolando Peñas attended Mi Apá’s 15th-anniversary celebration in June where residents came and brought dominoes to play. He said he attended this year’s domino tournament to experience the same energy of the Cuban community he grew up in.
“Dominoes has been played in my family for generations,” Peñas said. “I played with my grandfather when I was a little boy in Cuba. More than a game, it’s a part of who we are.”
Elio Piedra, an award-winning Afro-Jazz artist, and his Conga Drum Ensemble performed covers of popular Spanish music as guests swayed to salsa and bachata in the small patio space and parking lot of the restaurant.
Sophia Alday, an 18-year-old UF tourism, events and recreation management freshman, felt at home while playing dominoes with her grandmother at the event. She said it was important for the Latin community to come together and put on cultural events that allow her to feel more connected to her roots.
“Being half Cuban, it’s really hard to find spaces in Gainesville that let me celebrate my culture and play with my family like this,” Alday said. “It feels great knowing that there are people in this town who share the same background and experiences as me.”