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Cockfight Nationalism: Blood Sport and the Moral Politics of American Empire and Nation Building

From: American Quarterly
Volume 65, Number 3, September 2013
pp. 549-574 | 10.1353/aq.2013.0035



This essay explores the symbiotic relationship between animal welfare and ideologies of nation building and exceptionalism during a series of struggles over cockfighting in the new US Empire in the early twentieth century. Born out of the shared experience of American overseas expansionism, these clashes erupted in the American Occupied Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, where the battle lines pitting American-sponsored animal protectionists against indigenous cockfight enthusiasts were drawn along competing charges of cruelty and claims of self-determination. I argue that battles over the cockfight were a form of animal nationalism—that is to say, cockfight nationalism. Cockfight enthusiasts and opponents alike mapped gendered, raced, and classed ideologies of nation and sovereignty onto the bodies of fighting cocks to stake their divergent political and cultural claims regarding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, moral uplift, benevolence, and national belonging.

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