But cockfighting is legal in Puerto Rico. It is also a popular sport as well as a tourist attraction. In fact, you could say that San Juan is to cockfighting what Vegas is to boxing, or what Barcelona is to bullfighting or, perhaps, what illegal dog fighting is to the U.S. rural South. So while the presence of a cockfighting arena certainly horrified me, it was business as usual for all the locals going about their busy day. Who was I to judge: U.S. society enacts a great deal of cruelty upon many types of animals.
Regulated by the Puerto Rican government, the country has about 86 official arenas (clubs), like Club Gallistico. Cockfighting was given official status in 1933 as a 'gentleman's sport'. According to a recent Associated Press article, Puerto Rico legislators passed a much-lauded resolution in 2010 to protect cockfighting as an integral part of the country's folklore. Until the recent economic crisis, cockfighting was a significant revenue source. However, over the last few years, many matches have gone underground to avoid all the officially-legislated fees.
Club Gallistico was closed when I happened upon it that morning, and the few employees on the premises didn't seem to mind me walking around the arena and taking photographs. I even found where the roosters live. They certainly didn't seem very aggressive. In fact, I thought they were pretty docile and rather scrawny. Compared to what they have to endure in a match -- many of them getting either killed or badly injured -- their accommodations looked clean and comfortable with plenty of food and water.
As I walk out of the parking lot I noticed a sign that, translated into English, read: "Parking Fridays and Saturdays 24 hours, ticket required". I interpreted this to mean that cockfighting is a weekend event that goes on around the clock. The bloody images that came to mind were so disturbing I crossed the street and went to the nearby nail salon.
Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.