Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

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9780809037193: Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

An eye-opening report on two hostile neighbors.

Like two roosters in a fighting arena, the Dominican Republic and Haiti are encircled by barriers of geography and poverty. They share one Caribbean island, Hispaniola, but their histories are as deeply divided as their cultures: one French-speaking and black, one Spanish-speaking and mulatto. And just as the owners of gamecocks contrive battles between their birds (a favorite sport in both countries) as a way of playing out human conflicts, Haitian and Dominican leaders often stir up nationalist disputes and exaggerate their cultural and racial differences as a way of deflecting other kinds of turmoil.

Michele Wucker's vivid account of these struggles both on Hispaniola and in the United States takes us to the haunted mountains where, sixty years ago, the Dominican dictator Trujillo ordered 30,000 Haitians to be killed; to Vodou rituals in Dominican sugarcane fields where Haitians work as virtual slaves; and to the ringside of cockfights in all three countries. She focuses especially on the features in Caribbean history that are still affecting Hispaniola today, including the often contradictory policies of the United States toward both nations.

Wucker's report on the life of Dominican and Haitian migrants in the United States is essential if we are to understand their contribution to the politics of our hemisphere.

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Review:

The Caribbean island of Hispaniola is home to historic, ongoing strife between two countries deeply divided by race, language, and history yet forced constantly into confrontation by their shared geography. In her first book, American journalist Michele Wucker reports from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the complex relations between these two cultures and sheds light on the sources of their struggles both in their island home and in the United States.

This book is charged from the start with the violence and posturing of blood sport, as Wucker observes her first Haitian cockfight: "The air cracks with the impact of stiffened feathers as each bird tries to push the other to the ground. Around the ring, the Haitian men shout to one another and wave dirty wads of gourdes in the air, seeking bets.... Soon, the feathers of both cocks are slick with blood." Popular in both countries, these fights become a totemic image for the author, who finds in them, as in the many clashes between Hispaniola's two cultures, "both division and community, opposite sides of the same coin." This is a fine historical primer, buoyed along by Wucker's graceful, observant prose style. --Maria Dolan

About the Author:

Michele Wucker, born in 1969, is a freelance writer who reports regularly on Caribbean affairs for both Dominican and North American papers. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.

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