A KNIFE FIGHT BETWEEN TWO CHICKENS ISN’T A CULTURAL AFFAIR
NM Attorney General Lays to Rest Claim that Cockfighting is Protected by Treaty
By Danielle Bays
Cockfighters in New Mexico have for years defended their ways by invoking the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Already dismissed as an invalid argument by many opposed to the cruelty of cockfighting, the claim should now be laid to rest due to a recent opinion issued by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Proponents of the blood sport contend that cockfighting is a cultural right protected by the treaty. With no mention of cockfighting in any part of the document, it seems a stretch to think that the U.S. and Mexican governments, when they ratified the treaty in 1848, intended to preserve knife fights between roosters. Yet some cockers claim that this right has been passed down through the generations from the original Mexican inhabitants of what is now New Mexico to their present day heirs. Of course some of the cockers are from Texas, but they fail to reveal that fact.
The state Attorney General’s Office has now weighed in on this debate at the request of Rep. Ron Godbey (R-Cedar Crest), who sponsored a bill to ban cockfighting during the past legislative session. He asked the Attorney General to issue an opinion on whether the treaty protects a right to fight gamecocks. The answer is fairly simple: it does not. The opinion was based on relevant constitutional, statutory and case law. The opinion finds that if Mexican citizens held a right to cockfighting prior to the treaty, the activity can still be prohibited through a neutral law of general application. The same holds true for claims based on cockfighting being a religious practice (some go so far as to claim God is a cockfighter).
The Attorney General’s statement notes that no treaty-based challenges have been made against cockfighting bans in other states covered by the treaty. And all states covered by the treaty – except New Mexico — have enacted bans. Texas did so in 1907 while California did two years earlier.
But the answer to the treaty debate did not come until the end of April, a month after the cockfighting bill died in the Senate. Neither Rep. Godbey nor any of the advocates behind the ban were surprised, yet this official statement might have given the issue the boost it needed to navigate through the hectic last week of our state senate. Godbey has pledged to bring the cockfighting ban back to the Legislature in 2005.
While the Attorney General’s position provides a legal opinion on cockfighting as a cultural right, many people do associate the activity with cultural heritage—although usually not theirs.
Cesar Chavez once said, “Kindness and compassion toward all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people.” Thus we denigrate a culture by associating cruel activities with that culture.
Yet, some people still identify cockfighting as a Hispanic activity in New Mexico, mostly due to the rhetoric spewed by the cockfighting minority. A 2001poll showed that 76 percent of Hispanics favored a statewide ban on cockfighting. A similar poll conducted in Arizona in 1997 found 95 percent of Hispanic voters felt cockfighting was cruel and inhumane. The startling discovery in that poll was the Anglo perception of Hispanic culture: only 34 percent of Anglos disagreed with the statement that cockfighting is an important part of Hispanic culture, while 70 percent of Hispanics disagreed. Indeed, many with extended family ties to New Mexico find the cultural argument offensive and prefer that the treaty be used to defend property and water rights.
Culture tends to be thought of as something from the past, but culture is not stagnant. It evolves over time, embracing certain aspects and leaving others behind. Culture should never be an excuse for cruelty, whether it is Hispanic culture in New Mexico, Cajun culture in Louisiana, or Filipino culture in Hawaii. It may have been said best in an editorial printed last year in the Honolulu Advertiser: “Since when does it advance anyone’s culture to attach razor-sharp spurs to the legs of roosters and watch them shred one another to the death? The early Romans fed Christians to the lions, but that dark period of ‘Italian culture’ certainly hasn’t endured, and nor should cockfighting.”
Danielle Bays is the campaign manager for Animal Protection Voters, an organization dedicated to building an effective political voice for animal advocacy in New Mexico. If you’d like to get involved in the campaign to ban cockfighting in New Mexico, call 505-954-4262 or e-mail Danielle@apvnm.org
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