We’re Giving Women a Seat to Play at the Dominoes Table

Photo: courtesy of Merodea.
Whether you learned dominoes watching your abuelos play against your parents in Cuba or during the holiday parrandas in Puerto Rico, the game has been a staple in Latine households for decades, especially among caribeños.   
Developed in China in the 1300s, dominoes is one of the oldest tools for game play. But for our communities, it’s much more than a game: dominoes has served as a connecting tissue between the diaspora and our respective home countries, a way of understanding between socioeconomic classes, and even a moment for strengthening relations among Latines. 
The peculiar sound of barajarando los dominós, as Boricuas do, or hearing the expression “darle agua,” as Cubans say, before each game is enough to elicit the nostalgic soundscapes of your neighborhood — no matter when or where you grew up. 
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For Puerto Ricans, the game of dominoes has been a part of our lives en las buenas y en las malas. When a natural disaster hits, as so often occurs, the electricity and the people go out. Soon, a neighbor will make an appearance with a box of dominoes as the only form of reliable entertainment. Meanwhile, in the diaspora, playing dominoes is a way to retain cultural traditions in the barrios, often coupled with some old-school salsa and a round of beers. 
“I learned to play dominoes with my grandpa and dad during the holiday seasons in Chicago,” says Dr. Sarah Bruno, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University’s Humanities Research Center where she focuses on Latine studies. “But I played my brother over and over again, and that is when I really understood the game’s strategy and the mechanics of playing with a partner.”

"The game of dominoes has been a part of our lives en las buenas y en las malas."

victoria leandra
For Bruno and her Puerto Rican family, playing dominoes is a core childhood memory. So much so that she made dominoes centerpieces to celebrate her PhD graduation party, while her cousin used the fichas to teach her son how to do math. Today, she continues the tradition by playing with her official game partner of 10 years, her cousin, against her husband and her brother. 
But this scenario isn’t typical for Latina women. While playing dominoes represents a ritual-like experience where everyone, regardless of their gender, gathers to enjoy each other’s company while challenging one another, it’s mainly men who run the dominoes table. It has even been referred to as a game for los hombres de la familia. 
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“Unfortunately, men being considered ‘the best [at the game]’ is part of the machista culture that has been passed down for generations,” Rachel Gonzalez-Diaz, a senior analyst and master’s student at Penn State University, tells Somos. “Traditionally, women were the ones to stay inside the home taking care of the family and the house, [while the men played], therefore they wouldn't have [had much] time to play games outside.”
Growing up in Cuba, Gonzalez-Diaz vividly remembers walking into neighborhoods and seeing a table of men playing dominoes with a bottle of rum, screaming passionately at each other about the game. This is often the image that many of us conjure up when thinking about dominoes.

“Unfortunately, men being considered ‘the best [at the game]’ is part of the machista culture that has been passed down for generations.”

Rachel Gonzalez-Diaz
But Merodea, a community that promotes connections among the new generation of Boricua women with the intention of celebrating its culture inside and outside of Puerto Rico, is set to change that. 
Their newly released dominoes game Las Dóminas contains 28 pieces that elevate the game into an educational experience for a younger generation of Latinas about our culture and traditions. 
“Most of the media images of people playing the game are men, and if you find a woman, she’s normally a mature-aged woman,” Melissa Jimenez, founder of Merodea, tells Somos. “Where are we in the conversation? The young professional Latina women? … We are present, just not represented.” 
Raised by a hardworking and independent mother, Jimenez recalls telling her mom she wanted to learn how to play dominoes when she was a teenager, but her mom’s reaction caught her off guard. “Ay no, eso es un juego de hombres y borrachones,” her mom told her, “a game for men and drunks.” The experience left a stain in her memory, so much so that she decided to do something about it. Years later, Las Dóminas came to life. 
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“We want to change the perspective of how women are portrayed in this game. We designed this product with the intention that women, regardless of age, siempre tengan una silla en la mesa,” Jimenez says. 

“We want to change the perspective of how women are portrayed in this game. "

Melissa Jimenez
Nicole Bosch, senior event marketing manager at Merodea, points out that it’s usually men who teach the rest of the family how to play. “It’s almost never your grandmother teaching you, so we wanted to change that,” she says. When women want to participate, male players often condescendingly ask, “Do you even know how to play?” Because of this, the Austin, Texas-based puertorriqueña-venezolana remembers feeling intimidated to take part in the game.
To help women learn the game without embarrassment and feel more empowered to continue the tradition among friends and family, the product includes instructions on how to play and a handy glossary. A Puerto Rico-based brand, the rules are taught Boricua style, like capicú and la chucha. 
The women of Merodea want more mujeres owning the dominoes space. Whether in Latin America or across the diaspora, they hope the new set of stylish transparent green dominoes encourages more Latinas to play. 
“[At Merodea], our aim is to make the game more inclusive, so that’s why I want to teach my girlfriends, too. Dominoes are meant to bring people together,” Bosch says. 

“Men are just the loudest. I am the capicú queen."

Dr. Sarah Bruno
Beyond a game, a dominoes set transports us to some of the most sentimental moments of our childhood, and the little box they come in travels with us no matter where we are in the world. It is a piece of our homeland that we carry not only to reconnect with our roots but also to celebrate our culture and traditions — and these experiences aren’t exclusive to men. 
“Men are just the loudest. I am the capicú queen,” Bruno, the postdoctoral fellow, says confidently. “[It’s] the chuchaso chulas who run the game.”

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