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.