The seasoned victor, his dark cigar protruding from under a luxurious white moustache, waved a defeated young challenger from the domino table.
"Fuera," he sniffed to the crowd. "Out with you."
"This is the way it was all across Cuba," smiled Juan Garcia, approving the champion's style.
Garcia, 46, was among several dozen admirers milling around the Cuban domino matches recently at Maceo Park in Miami's Little Havana. Behind him stood the headquarters of the Santiago de Cuba Municipality, one of many clubs here bearing Cuban names. In front of him stretched La Calle Ocho, 8th Street until it became Little Havana's main drag. And all around him reverberated the staccato Spanish of his native island and its Latin neighbors.
To an extraordinary degree, all Miami increasingly has become the way it was back in Cuba. This city in the last two decades has evolved from a middle-sized southern resort into a Caribbean capital rivaled only by El Paso for its concentration of Latin population.
Conservatively estimated, more than 60 percent of Miami's 350,000 residents are Latin, as are more than 40 percent of the 1.8 million people in Dade County.
The Latins, 80 percent Cuban, have changed Miami's character, probably irreversibly. Until recently, most were middle-class refugees with energy and know-how. So, they altered the city to fit their ways, rather than the reverse. In a sense, the melting pot melted. "There is really no difference between living here and living in Cuba," said Roberto Labaino, 62, a salesman in a downtown men's store.
Labaino left Havana 20 years ago, fleeing political and economic conditions created by Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. Since then, he has fashioned a new life, but not too new.
After two decades here, Labaino speaks only a few words of English. His family speaks Spanish. His friends speak Spanish. His doctor, druggist, grocer and service station attendants speak Spanish. His newspaper is in Spanish and so are his radio and television stations.
"And of every 100 customers who come into the store, 98 of them will be speaking Spanish," he said, in Spanish.
Miami's Latin personality in recent years has moved far beyond Little Havana, or even the city center where Labaino works. It has enveloped the glass-and-steel banks along Biscayne Bay, where Spanish has become an indispensable tool for executives on the rise. It has spread as far as Miami's southern suburbs, where condominium residents answering telephone calls from plumbers or delivery men or shopping in elegant stores are as likely to hear Spanish as English.
Latin residents choose from two major daily newspapers in Spanish, Diario Las Americas and a Spanish version of The Miami Herald, or from two dozen smaller publications. They listen to six Spanish-language radio stations and watch the programs of a Spanish television station.
"Where else in America can you go from birth to death in Spanish?" asked Mayor Maurice Ferre.
The Latin Chamber of Commerce estimates that nearly 20,000 businesses in the Miami area are Latin-owned, one third of all the businesses. Most are small, including 80 percent of the service stations.
Activists complain that the board rooms of most big businesses here still contain few Latins. But 25 of the 70 local banks are Latin-owned, including one with $500 million in deposits.
Sub-tropical weather and geography, which puts Miami on the tip of a finger pointing at Latin America, have combined with a congenial business and social atmosphere to make the city a natural place to settle for Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Colombians, as well as Cubans.
Surveys indicate that as many as a third of the area's Cubans came to Miami after first trying to live elsewhere in the United States.
"Miami is like a mecca," said Antonio Jorge, a political economist at Florida International University who has researched the effects of the Latin influx on Miami. "It becomes like a promised land, because it is the nearest thing possible to Cuba."
Politicians and scholars argue about where Latinization is taking Miami. Some predict that it is only a question of generations, and that the children and grandchildren of Miami's Cubans will move toward assimilation the way Irish and Italians did before them in other cities.
Others say the concentration here has changed the rules. For them, Miami is leading the way to something new in the United States, a hybrid culture that is neither entirely foreign nor American as traditionally defined.
This is particularly true as hopes of returning to Cuba wane, prodding more Cubans toward entering the local politics many have ignored as they waited to go home. Although only one of Dade County's eight commissioners is Latin, for example, both Republican candidates seeking the nomination to run against Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) last fall were of Cuban origin.
The situation was demonstrated by a recent scene in one of Miami's myriad Cuban restaurants. A Latin man sat eating Cuban black beans and rice with his family, speaking and hearing only Spanish. On his head was a red baseball cap with large yellow letters reading "U.S.A."
Only 4 percent of Miami's population was Latin in 1960. The swift change has disturbed many who liked Miami the way it used to be. Emmy Shafer, for example, disparages Miami as "Cuba North," and said she believes it has become a Latin city that never again will be the same.
"Miami, I would say kiss it goodbye," she said.
The city's black leaders also complain that emphasis on Latin concerns over the last two decades has deflected civic energies away from civil rights and the economic needs of the area's 17 percent black population. Relations are particularly sour between black street youths and Latin policemen, who make up 40 percent of the Miami force.
It was a Latin police officer, Luis Alvarez, who shot a black 20-year-old in the Overtown ghetto last December in an incident that led to three days of street violence. After an angry black demonstration at city hall, Alvarez was indicted on manslaughter charges in February, and the Miami Police Department Hispanic-American Confederation charged that he was being victimized.
Shafer led a campaign against the spread of Spanish in 1981 that produced a referendum in which Dade County voters were asked to ban the use of Spanish in activities supported by public funds. Shafer, who came to this country from Germany at age 14, insisted that Latin American immigrants should learn English and adapt to U.S. ways as she and her family did 35 years ago.
Her idea won overwhelmingly. A county ordinance now bars authorities from using Spanish in county-funded activities. For example, employes must answer the telephone in English and all documents must be published in English.
But since then the Latinization of Miami has only accelerated. Shafer complains that English-speaking patients at the county's Jackson Memorial Hospital still have trouble because doctors and attendants speak Spanish among themselves.
Mayor Ferre explains that his city is becoming increasingly Latin because non-Latin residents are moving to the suburbs while Latins are moving in from abroad or from other American cities.
Ferre, of Puerto Rican extraction, heads a city commission in which Latins have a 3-to-2 majority. A recent visitor to city hall heard more Spanish than English. Reflecting this, the city has what some call "its own foreign policy."
A resolution aimed at Cuba last year barred Miami officials from attending conferences also attended by representatives of communist countries. Another granted $10,000 in city funds to a center run by Alpha 66, an exile group devoted to bringing down Castro.
A third resolution protested to Venezuela over its detention of Orlando Bosch, a Cuban pediatrician jailed by Venezuelan authorities for what they say was his role in blowing up a Cuban airliner.
Carrying the municipal diplomacy a step further, Ferre headed a local delegation that visited Caracas last month to intercede with Venezuela for an early trial for Bosch.
Miami's Latin American cast also has brought it an economic boom. Largely because it is Latin, this city has become a headquarters for Latin American loans, investment, flight capital, cocaine fortunes and export deals.
The Dade County Tourism Department estimates that 11 percent of the more than 11 million tourists who visited the area last year came from Latin American countries. Most gathered in the downtown area for shopping, with the traditional U.S. tourist trade centered on Miami Beach and nearby sunshine resorts. But these days even the Miami Beach hotels often hang out signs in Spanish as well as in English.
In addition, Miami is a Latin travel hub, with 1,000 flights a week to Latin and Caribbean destinations from Miami International Airport. Peter Reaveley, the airport's chief of aviation development, said more than 6 million passengers arrived from or departed to Latin or Caribbean cities last year.
The Florida Commerce Department estimates that 90 percent of the $7.7 billion worth of annual exports leaving the Miami area goes to Latin American and Caribbean countries. Luxury high-rise condominiums have few lights on at night because so many owners are absentee Latin investors hedging against turmoil in their countries.