Picalo! Metelo! Dale! The screams of encouragement ring off the cars and trucks that overflow in the parking lot at the Gallera Guayabal, a cockfighting arena in the barrio Guayabal in between the municipalities of Juana Díaz and Villalba, Puerto Rico. It's been two years since Hurricane Maria carved her path into the soil, ravaging the residents and livelihood of those on the island's Southern Coast and the Cordillera Central. Beneath the full moon and wet soil from a recent passing rainstorm, hundreds flock to the gallera, a concrete castle, and a symbol of the island's heritage. The interiors of the arenas are organized in a similar fashion with the fighting pit in its center, and holding pens housing dozens of gamecocks lining the walls. The feathered gladiators sit amongst the bustling groomed, fed, and raised with the sole purpose to make their owners, the arena’s gamblers and enthusiasts a couple of dollars. On the outside, the gallera resembles a small prison, with a black iron-barred doorway and similar black metal bars lining the windows. Inside, under the erratically placed flickering fluorescent lights, patrons drink Medalla's, a local beer on the island, and eat empanadas while they scream out their bets of 20, 40, or sometimes the bold enough will declare a bet in the 100's. This is the scene of a sport that's so entwined in the island’s culture, since the island's days as a Spanish settlement and seen by many as one of Puerto Rico’s most popular and profitable past times.
"Los Gladiadores de Guayabal" documents the culture of cockfighting at the Gallera Guayabal Stadium in the barrio Guayabal in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico. This regulated subculture sport is a deeply rooted part of this barrio and throughout much of Puerto Rico’s culture, with opinions on its practice, split down the middle. Many in the area and on the island depend on the income generated from the selling of concessions, preparing the birds the night of their fights, and reviving birds that have fallen in a match at these various fighting stadiums across the commonwealth. Others depend on the raising of dozens of roosters to fight for the affluent owners that seek to participate in the sport. The other side of the aisle sees the sport as barbaric, as the birds are seen as nothing but profits.
The 2018 Farm Bill signed in December of 2018 by the United States government includes the "banning of animal fighting ventures, buying, selling, delivering, possessing, training, or transporting animals for participation in the animal fighting venture, and sharp tools used for the fights". The law which is scheduled to go into effect December of 2019, comes with praise from animal rights activists looking to end this pastime. Many galleros have expressed their displeasure with the law, claiming it as an overreach by the mainland government to take a piece of the cultural fabric that the island has held since before the island came under US ownership in 1898. Some feel the regulated sport will become clandestine and others have expressed concerns about the possible repercussions the island could see economically. That could ultimately impact both sides of the argument as the regulated sport accounts for “90 million USD of the islands unofficial income”, with officials estimating the total is closer to 18 million, for an island still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Maria and its debt crisis. Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer González: “this industry represents over 12,000 direct jobs, 15,000 indirect jobs, and generates over $18 million in revenues”. While the feelings towards the future of this regulated sport are divided, the two sides can agree that the well being of these birds is of most importance. If and when this law goes into effect a question remains to be answered. What will happen to these birds once they are free?
José Aberjunta, 54, gallero 15 years, "It's a cultural staple that helps a lot of families get by. From the parking attendant that makes $2 for every car watched to the hostess and kitchen that tend who come to watch their rooster, a friends rooster or even those who come to rent a rooster just to make a night out after a busy week of work"
Wilberto Aberjunta, gallero 5 years, "I have 30-40 roosters, and I'm drawn to the full experience. The caretaking, raising is my favorite part. Even when you win or lose you still feel a sense of pride. It's a sport of highs and lows, but a sport deeply rooted in our fabric as a society"
Chris, 28, gallero "entire life""My family has a long history of being galleros. From the day they're born to the minute to prepare them to fight. It's a bond. We both feel it. If they lose I'm not angry or upset with my opponent, I'm not one to fight for that sort of thing"
"The gallera is a family. You go in with a few people your bird wins and now you're friends with the entire establishment. It's a place where we come to relieve stress. Our island is hard, we need a stress reliever"
"The guardian of the ring is over sixty years old and is responsible for holding back the crowd and to prevent them from making an impact on the match. From frightening the birds to ending the match early. For many like him, this is the only job they know. What many have used to put their children through school, and what many only know. When the law goes into effect, he and others would be left without any skillset to apply to the modern workforce that it requires"