Salsa and merengue music played loudly from a stereo. Guests chatted as they ate beans, rice and empanadas. But above all, there was the loud clack of dominoes being slapped onto tables around the room.
It was the second annual domino tournament at Centre Stage.
“Many Latin countries play dominoes, so it’s a fun way to celebrate Latin culture,” said Yudi Lewis, head of the Latino Initiative who put on the event.
Tension over immigration, language barriers and age gaps were pushed aside for the sake of play. It was all part of the plan to include everyone.
Inclusiveness is the Latino Initiative’s favorite word, according to Lewis.
“Basically we want all students to experience the Latino culture,” she said. “They don’t have to be of Latino descent to be part of this night. Anybody could have come.”
Although the Latino Initiative is geared toward helping Latino students succeed, all of their activities are open to both students and community members. Next year, Lewis hopes to have an even bigger turnout.
“The tournament will be a yearly event. Last year we had about 40 people, but this year we doubled our turnout, so we hope to have an even larger group next year,” Lewis said.
Local business owners Mike and Viankely Burgess played a key role in making the tournament welcoming to both seasoned domino players and newcomers alike. Their company, Diaz’s Domino Tables, donated the use of several tables as well as dominoes.
They also offered prizes: two domino tables with green tops and the touting phrase “UVU Domino Champions 2010.”
Mike Burgess came to love the game while a missionary in the Dominican Republic. He learned it in the street with local players and soon developed a passion for it. It wasn’t until years later that the idea for his business hit him.
“Me and my buddies were just sitting around playing dominoes, and we decided, ‘Why not just make domino tables in Utah?’ We officially became a company about a year ago,” Mike Burgess said.
Domino night is a great time to sit around the table and talk to other players. Mike Burgess says that he used to play with his wife’s family, and enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them better. That connectedness inspires his work now.
“The spirit of my company is that, to get people to sit down at the table and just talk about things. That’s what life’s about,” he said.
That type of feeling pervaded the evening. Rookie players laughed and joked with old pros as they competed across the table. Latinos and non-Latinos ignored cultural boundaries to play together. In some cases, because of language barriers, participants simply smiled and exchanged hellos, but nobody was left out.
The Latino Initiative’s purpose is to make everyone more comfortable with each other. Amidst the din of domino tiles, music and amusement, all participants, at least for one night, could feel included.