Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

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.



With her two-year-old crawling on the table, her kid brother coloring underneath, her grandmother yelling to help her in the kitchen and her infant daughter crying for milk, Rosemary just breathes. She has to take some time to sit amongst the chaos.


Rosemary is 15 years old and cares for her own two children, her siblings, cousins, neighbor children and her grandmother everyday.

Rosemary was 13 when she had her first child. Her mother was 13 when she had her first child. Her grandmother was 12 when she had her first child.


In the Dominican Republic, teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in the world. Many people don’t see it as a problem because it is so common, but most agree it needs a solution. Generations of young girls are dropping out of school and working low-paying jobs. They are taking care of the children they have while they are still children.

Rosemary with Vitali, 2 months

Rosemary says she was the first in her group of friends to become pregnant. So now she doesn’t have time to be a typical 15-year-old girl. She wishes she could still sing with the other girls and roam carefree around the neighborhood all day. She knows it will be a long time before she has the freedom to be a kid again.


Finding your character

Words by Matthew Masin
Photos by Matthew Masin and Cara Wilwerding

Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

How do you find the most interesting person at a cockfight?

Everyone  is yelling, screaming, waving money around and drinking. It all looks pretty interesting to me.

Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

For the first few cockfights I attended, it was nearly impossible in my head to figure out how to find someone to tell my story through, but that’s why talking with Bruce, Brian and others on the trip is so helpful. I think i’m close-so wish me luck!

Apparently, there’s a real problem of addiction to betting on cockfights. Everyone I’ve talked to acknowledges this and tells me about people they know who have lost significant possessions due to making a bet their butt can’t cash. Then when I try to ask how I can meet some of these people I’m met with, “I don’t know them personally” or something similar.

Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

There’s a lot of shame involved, no one wants to talk about it. They want to have fun at the fight, and not think about money.

This is where going to the same neighborhood day after day has paid off. Finally someone I met earlier was willing to show me someone who has lost their home and their car from betting on fights. This man was too drunk today to talk with me for long, told me to come back Friday to the fight and we can talk then. So, send me luck.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Stanly and Alexis at a fight the other day.

Photo by Matthew Masin
Photo by Matthew Masin

These two were running in and out of the ring, grabbing the losing rooster and bringing out to the curb to smash it’s neck against a wall, tear off the feathers and bag up the meat.

Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Cara Wilwerding

Turns out, they disembowel the roosters for about $1 a pop and give the money to their father.

These quirky, smily and innocent kids are also really good mechanics, too. If there was more time, i’d love to do a story solely on them.

Photo by Cara Wilwerding
Photo by Cara Wilwerding

Feliz ano nuevo!


Day-to-Day: teenage pregnancy in the Dominican Republic

Maribel with her four children and others in the rural area. She first got pregnant at 14 years old.

Every mother I’ve met so far has said she is happy to be pregnant or to have children of her own. All of them were between 14 and 16 years old when they first got pregnant. When asked what they had planned or wanted for their own or their children’s futures, none had a concrete answer. These girls live day-to-day, without regard for the long-term.

Yaiva, 17, and her daughter Ashie, 1

Yaiva, 17, and her daughter Ashie, 1

The Dominican Republic has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Latin America, with almost 30 percent of teenage girls becoming pregnant.

Dariela, 16, 4 months pregnant, and Luz, 17, 6 months pregnant and already has a daughter, Leanny, 1

A maternity counselor I spoke with said these girls are hoping for a way out of their own family’s poverty. They find a boy who promises to feed and shelter them, so they have children as a way to stay with him and have something, or someone, of their own.

Yokaira, 16, her mother Yocasti, 34,  holding her granddaughter Yocarlin Michell Pujos Munoz, 4 months

The grandparents of these new babies usually are indifferent to the situation because they were teenagers as well when they first had children, the counselor said. A cycle of poverty perpetually leaves girls out of school and out of work.

Yabreisiaria is 8 months pregnant. She says she is fifteen, but older women in the neighborhood argue that she is lying and that she is actually 12 or 13.–Anna Reed

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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