Gladiadores de Guayabal
Barrio Guayabal, Puerto Rico 2019
Beneath a full moon, roars ring into the air as I navigate through wet soil from a recent passing rainstorm and various automobiles overflowing outside the Gallera Guayabal, a cockfighting arena in the barrio Guayabal in between the municipalities of Juana DiÌaz and Villalba, Puerto Rico. It’s been two years since Hurricane Maria carved her path into the soil, ravaging my family’s lives and livelihoods of others on the island’s Southern Coast and the Cordillera Central. I watched as hundreds rushed in holding faces full of hope. The interiors of the arenas are organized similarly with a fighting pit in its center, and holding pens housing dozens of gamecocks lining the walls. The feathered gladiators are 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 alcohol and eat fried foods as they scream out their bets of 20, 40. 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. While feelings towards the sport are divided, the two sides can agree that the bird’s wellbeing is of most importance. When this law goes into effect in December, a question remains to be answered. What will happen to these birds once they are free?