Hey guys. Dusty here.
Okay. So we’re crossing a new threshold.
We’re stepping into something controversial. It’s not something we normally do. It’s not something that we like to do, necessarily. But sometimes, a controversial story is worth telling.
Now, having said that, everything’s subjective, right?. What’s controversial to some may not be controversial at all to others. That could be true when you’re speaking about two groups of people in the same room, but especially so when you’re talking about groups of people who are separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years of cultural and historical differences.
There are reasons cockfighting is illegal in the U.S., and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone here, including us, who would find fault or argue with those reasons (Louisiana was the last state to ban the practice, in 2008). It’s a brutal, outdated practice that at best represents little more than orchestrated animal cruelty. By and large that’s the way that we Americans – and folks in many other countries - see it, yes? And frankly, it’s hard for us to understand why it’s done at all. For all those reasons (and a myriad of others) cockfighting has over the years been relegated to the shady backyards, back rooms, and back corners of American society, out of sight and mostly out of mind. It still happens no doubt, but to say it’s an “underground” sport is probably calling it right. Having grown up in Texas and lived here our whole lives, we’ve heard about these kinds of cockfights. These places where they happen. But we’ve never been to one. Never had the desire to go to one.
But again, what’s controversial here in the US isn’t necessarily controversial in other countries and cultures. Cockfighting, in fact, is actually still considered a mainstream sport in countries around the world, from the Middle East to India to Southeast Asia to Latin America. And not only is the “sport” celebrated in these places, it’s a passion for many thousands – if not millions – of people. A way of life. A valued part of their own cultures. And one of the most fascinating, most rewarding parts of travel we believe is being able to visit other countries and explore these kinds of vast cultural differences, even though they may at times be personally troubling. And by virtue of what we do as bloggers, we feel a certain desire – and a certain responsibility – to share what we find with others. With you.
When we began looking into things to do and see and video and blog about during our visit to Puerto Rico, I came across a single photograph in my research that was almost impossible to believe. It was a picture of this huge, incredibly modern cockfighting arena on the outskirts of San Juan. And I was struck. What? This is legal in Puerto Rico? Seriously? And not only is it legal, but they build huge coliseums for it?
Maybe you knew about it already, so you’re thinking so what? But I certainly didn’t. Nik didn’t. And it seems most people we’ve talked to about it didn’t. Puerto Rico is a US territory! They wouldn’t allow cockfighting. Would they?
Turns out, not only is all of the above true, it’s also true that some of these cockfighting venues in Puerto Rico are actually paid for with US tax dollars (Associated Press, 7/24/2012).
So, upon discovering all this, I felt compelled to take a few hours out of our week-long adventure in Puerto Rico and actually sit down in one of these places and see what it’s all about. And who knows? Maybe gain some valuable cultural perspective. For the record again, we absolutely oppose the idea and practice of cockfighting. And for the record, as you’ll see, Nik wanted no part of my morbid curiosity. But she nevertheless agreed to go along with me to check out that place - the place that I had seen in that photograph. And the following is the video we produced from our time there.
Note before you watch that we tried to shy away from much of the actual cockfighting. It was never about capturing the fighting. It was more about trying to capture and relay the entire experience. In fact, the video is almost seven minutes long, and out of that only about 15 seconds of actual fighting is visible. Still, some of you might find it tough to watch. Here it is, then read on below for more details. And please feel free to leave us your thoughts/comments and join the discussion.
Wow. Can’t wait to move on to that adventure stuff. It was certainly much more fun.
So what did you think?
We were absolutely blown away by our time there. Again, not by the fighting itself, but by the entire culture that surrounds and supports cockfighting. It’s just so completely and utterly different from anything we’ve grown used to living here in the US. Even more interesting is that when the subject of cockfighting came up in our conversations with a handful of locals, they told us that the “sport” used to be much bigger. “Oh yeah,” we were told, “I remember when they used to televise the fights. They used to show them on TV not that long ago.”
But right there’s a key fact there that’s also worth pointing out: cockfighting used to be much bigger. To the chagrin of many Puerto Ricans who cherish the sport (and the to delight of animal rights activists, both inside and outside Puerto Rico), cockfighting is undoubtedly in decline across the country, due more it seems to economic factors than anything. In fact that Associated Press article I mentioned earlier actually spells out the situation quite well. (You can read it here.) And, in another show of cockfighting’s importance to the country, rather than move to ban the sport there are also efforts on the legislative level to save the practice from withering away.
So there you go. Our apologies if you took any offense to the video, but it was a sincere effort to share our experience in an honest and objective way. And I hope we were able to do that.
Feel free to share your comments below, and let’s chat about it! Let’s just keep it civil.
Cheers guys, and thanks.