January 5, 2007 Dominican Cockfight

Photo Caption: Among the ruins of the 16th-century San Francisco Monastery in the capital of Santo Domingo young men train two roosters for future cockfights to be held at any of the thousands of rings scattered around the country.

History: Though the gamecock lost to the American eagle in a tight contest for the national symbol of the United States, it is the symbol of the Dominican male and the island’s Christian Social Reform Party. Descended from feathered gladiators that battled thousands of years ago, modern gamecocks are made faster and deadlier after their abdominal plumage is plucked and their legs armed with sharp blades. These man-made spurs become prized collectibles. Outside the ring a winning bird is pampered with massages, warm baths, vitamins and nutritious meals, which are spoils lost to most Dominicans. After a losing bird is in a fight to the death it may become dinner before it leaves the arena. Amazingly, cockfighting was still legal in New Mexico and Louisiana when I took this image. Thankfully, the two states have since banned the bloody pastime. Though the United States was one of the biggest gamecock suppliers to the island, on the day I crossed into Mexico in this epic journey, the signature of President Bush declared the shipping of such birds a felony.

Journal Entry: Yesterday I began volunteering for the employment agency, operated by Farah and her two siblings, on location at a college in Puerto Plata on the northern coast. Interviewing university students who dreamed of gaining summer employment in the United States, I had to judge their knowledge of English, motives for going to America and the strength of their family ties in the U.S. and at home. To better assess language skills and to gain a personal insight into the culture, I asked these scholars about their thoughts on unification with Haiti. I quickly learned about the deep fears, hatred and racial prejudices between the two nations. Speaking of conflict, during the four-hour drive back to the capital, Yuri and Farah seemed to thrive on it. Apparently, arguments are best heard at the loudest volume, as evident by the high decibel levels that regularly accompanied the political cockfighting thundering from their favorite talk radio show.

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