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Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola Paperback – April 3, 2000

34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0809097135 ISBN-10: 0809097133 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The U.S. has sent troops to Haiti and the Dominican Republic four times in this century, twice to each country. In the last 20 years, reports Wucker, one-eighth of the population of the island of Hispaniola has emigrated to the U.S. Wucker, a freelance journalist, delves much deeper than mere numbers and chronology, supplementing her knowledge of the island's history with a great sense of the fabric of everyday life in the two countries. While each chapter is discrete enough to stand alone, cumulatively they create a passionate mural of the often bloody relationship between wary neighbors. Among the critical issues and events Wucker addresses are the role of geography as a barrier, European settlement, slave revolts, the role of the sugar industry and the experience of Dominican and Haitian immigrants in the U.S. Wucker's treatment of Dominican racism toward Haitians is particularly good, capturing the nuance and ambivalence at work when two peoples who are not nearly as different as they would sometimes like to believe are stuck together on a small piece of land with limited resources. Throughout the book, Wucker uses the metaphor of cockfighting, presenting the countries as two roosters forced (sometimes by the U.S.) to battle in a small, enclosed ring. If she relies a bit too heavily on this trope, Wucker more than makes up for the minor indulgence with her insightful treatment of many cultural issues, particularly the politicized nature of language, to which she brings an understanding of Creole, Spanish and French. Clear prose and vivid scenes of life at street level make Wucker's first book a marvelous immersion experience in the clash and conciliation of cultures on a small, embattled island next door. (Jan.) FYI: Why the Cocks Fight makes good companion reading to Edwidge Danticat's novel, The Farming of Bones (Forecasts, June 8.)
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (April 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809097133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809097135
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

So very much of what I write about goes back to the summer I spent with my great-aunt and -uncle in Belgium the year I was 16. Our family spoke French but lived in a Flemish suburb of Brussels, where the simplest purchase at a store involved a moment of hesitation over what language to speak. Since then, I have been fascinated by the ways that differences in culture and language affect how people get along. My French studies led me to Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, and thus to a study of the politics of language and culture. Immigration --from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and from both countries to the United States-- was central to these questions, which are explored in my first book, WHY THE COCKS FIGHT. In turn, Dominican and Haitian immigrants' stories led me to investigate my own family's immigrant past. Expecting to write about the differences between a hundred years ago and today, I was stunned to find far more similarities than I would have thought based on everything I learned. My new book, LOCKOUT, is the result of my surprising findings and an account of the price that we are paying for the wrong lessons we have been taught.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
We've needed a book that addresses Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the context of one another. Both keep cropping up in the news, and both keep trying to tear chunks out of each other. A meaningful study of the two nations together would make all the difference in the world in sorting out the important issues. But this isn't that book.
Oh, it's informative. It's also very close to being up to date, having been published in 1999. Wucker, who has written for Dominican newspapers in the U.S., knows whereof she speaks. But this book doesn't really treat both nations.
There's a great deal on the Dominican Republic. The convoluted history of the nation in the Twentieth Century has never been so eloquently explicated. It's a history of shifting alliances, powerful people, anger, justice, injustice, and more. And every bit of it helps in understanding the ins and outs of why so many Dominicans are coming to America and why we should care.
But Haiti glides by under the radar screen. Most of the material about Haiti in this book is actually about Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The political information on Haiti seems to come almost entirely out of history books. Wucker travelled extensively in the Dominican Republic, but to judge by the contents of this book, she may have made one or two day trips across the border into Haiti, that's it.
Striking the balance between Dominican and Haitian issues is difficult, both on Hispaniola and in studies thereof. Ms. Wucker has tried to do so, and she's to be commended for that. Indeed, she's come closer to succeeding than anyone else in recent memory. However, this book is almost entirely one-sided, and just can't quite make the leap into usefulness.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The author bravely tackles a tricky, thorny subject that (as you can see from one of the reviews below) is bound to offend many on the island of Hispaniola but in truth is not a condemnation of Dominican culture from a supposedly superior perspective. In point of fact, the author's lucid analysis of the interplay of race and identity on this small but historically seminal island has much to say about the unspoken interplay of race and identity in our own country and throughout the New World. One of the finest of the many rhetorical maneuvers on the part of Ms Wucker is a description of the many supernatural beings thought to inhabit the border between these two countries: blue-skinned ciguapas, the souls of dead Taino women who fled to these mountains to escape the rapacious Spaniards, and bien-bienes, the ghosts of escaped slaves whose cry inflicts all who hear it with perpetual melancholy. Through the clarity of her analysis, Ms Wucker shows us how the ghosts of European conquest and African slavery still haunt all of our cultures five centuries after Columbus.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Adiel Campos on October 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After having a co-worker recommend this book and after reading the reviews, I will be honest, I did not know what to expect. Now 3/4 into the book I dont know if I can stomach the rest. The reason for this is the unfair and untrue generalization of the Dominican people. In one instance Michele Wucker uses the term "Duvalier and the Dominicans" as if every Dominican had a share of government decision.
Throughout the book Michele Wucker uses very sympathetic language when referring to the haitian people. She speaks of them with fascination, carefully justifying their economic difficulties as having to do with or being somehow related to conflicts with their neighboring country. Then she turns her attention towards Dominicans with such disdain as if they were holding a public lynching every afternoon. The constant badgering of Dominicans becomes sickening since it is extremely misguided.

The truth is that their is alot of ignorance, especially geared towards haitians. And black dominicans, as myself, feel the need for someone to start employing certain strategies to educate the Dominican people in this matter. But it is also true that the ignorance held by Dominicans has never been equaled to that of the U.S. or many other parts of the world. Dominicans are very loving people and their conflict with the haitian people has nothing to do with color and more so with competition for jobs and resources. First, most Dominicans are of color. And most Dominicans arent leading a stable economic life. A visit to this country would quickly dispel THAT belief as it is immediately apparent that the Dominican Republic is by definition a 3rd world country lacking the means to sustain its popluation. This also due to the very corrupt governmental representatives leading the country.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Luis Hernandez on June 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
The evergoing conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has never been a subject that has captured the international community's attention, due to their third-world status and their political instability. Unlike the only other Caribbean island to be shared by two foreign powers (St. Martin/St. Maarten), Hispaniola's history has always been linked to the topic of race and culture. As a student of Latin American & Caribbean politics and culture, I discovered many hidden truths I never knew when I was living in the cultural melting pot know as New York City. This book gave me even a greater understanding of two communities that are so close in proximity, yet so far apart in everything else.
Ms. Wucker definately has done extensive research and has delved into the complexity of racial politics on this island. Her research is not biased (as one reviewer feels it is) but rich in truth. As an author myself, I have written a book that will be published in the near future on the political legacy a famous Dominican politician has left his country, and Ms. Wucker's research coincides with the same exact research I did.
Although the author is not Haitian or Dominican, it shouldn't matter because she has done a magnificent job. I always said "it sometimes takes an outsider to understand and resolve the problems of a place he/she has never lived in." Ms. Wucker's work validates this saying.
Whether you are in Miami's Little Haiti or in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhoods, or even in some faraway place that is not directly affected by either Dominican or Haitian immigration or politics, this should be a must read for all. By reading this book, you might have understand what U.S.
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