All posts by Cara Wilwerding

Cara Wilwerding is a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She grew up in Omaha, Neb and started her journalism career at Omaha Westside High School. She writes for the Daily Nebraskan’s arts and entertainment section in addition to taking photos. She’s also traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, for a similar photojournalism project with the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. This summer, she will work as an editorial and multimedia intern for HearNebraska.org, float down the Niobrara River and play a fair amount of ultimate frisbee. After graduating next spring, Wilwerding hopes to continue writing and photographing for an arts and entertainment publication.

The man with the gap in his teeth

Words and photos by Cara Wilwerding

The first thing that strikes you about Elinson Diaz Ramirez is the slight gap in his front teeth, noticeable only when he smiles at his father, a chef supporting a family of five. The family lives in a two-bedroom apartment with concrete walls, no plumbing and no doors. Elinson’s white teeth glimmer in the Caribbean sun as he washes sedans and rusty pickups outside of a cock fighting arena in Lo Fraile. He clenches these strong teeth as he slices up dead roosters, or gallos, after each fight, watching the blood dribble from their necks, yanking off stiff feathers with his reddened fingers and scooping out the entrails. The birds’ stomachs are still full of corn from the morning feeding. The gap in Elinson’s teeth shows up as he grins at old friends leaving the arena, often lending them money for 40-ounce Presidente beers and menthol cigarettes. But Elinson doesn’t go out drinking with them. Instead, he takes the remaining cash, sometimes as little as 200 pesos, home to buy rice and beans for his family.

This is a story about cock fighting, a brutal, loud and bloody affair commonplace to Santo Domingo’s neighborhoods, street corners and barrios. It’s about one man who dreams this sport can serve as an escape from his family’s poverty. About leaving high school to spend afternoons covered in dirt, gravel and rooster guts, surrounded by men shouting “Blanco!” and “Azul!” as they place bets on which gallo will survive another day. About brotherhood and camaraderie in a place where one bird’s death is another’s triumph. This is a story about the adrenaline, power and pesos many derive from cock fighting. A long shot at putting a meal on the table, a Christmas gift for two crying brothers, a means of survival.

Christmas Eve on a gamecock farm

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Words by Cara Wilwerding
Photos by Cara Wilwerding and Matt Masin

Christmas Eve in the Dominican Republic is a feast day, said to be comparable to an American Thanksgiving. Dominicans travel across the island to dine on roasted pig, rice with corn, Russian potato salad, grapes and apples with their families. But rather than feasting, Matt and I took a two-hour journey to San Francisco de Macorís to visit Richard Hernande’s gamecock farm.

Many of these roosters, born and bred to fight to the death, will eventually become meals themselves. It’s tradition to cook the losing rooster after a battle lasting 10 minutes (or until one of them dies). Last week, one of Hernande’s roosters actually killed his opponent in 15 seconds.

Matt and I are anxious to see our first fight Thursday evening. Until then, here are some of the roosters and trainers who made our holiday so memorable.

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