Gallo Fino is a portrait series that continues to explore my focus on maintaining cultural identity – specifically among Latin American immigrants to the U.S. It’s a story I began living when I came to the U.S. from Venezuela as a child. It’s a story I’ve seen played out in every American town and city I have ever visited. And it’s a story, I believe, of tremendous importance: that of keeping one’s cultural heritage alive in the face of emigration. Culture isn’t static but for immigrant communities, its rigidity across time and relocation is a link to our traditions and identities that we express in myriad ways.
While shooting for this project began in April ’13, the story was truly born in August of the previous year. It was then, when I was living in a primarily Tejano community in East Austin, that I found myself waking up to the early morning calls of neighbors’ gallos, or roosters. As I began exploring more of these neighborhoods, I was surprised and curious at the abundance of urban livestock. I saw firsthand how the city’s code allows for numerous forms of animal husbandry, with chicken farming chief among these.
Initially, the subject matter of this series spoke to me visually: rustic handmade coops, regal poultry, the feed dust speckled faces of the farmers, and all of these shot on location with studio lighting. As I began speaking with farmers in East Austin however, it became clear that the story had more than just visual appeal with relation to the Hispanic criadores, or farmers. For them, this was not about offsetting cost of food or generating additional income from the sale of animals. This practice is about remembering their childhoods, educating their children, and maintaining alive an important custom. They are passionate and dedicated to this tradition.
As one of the criadores told me, “Nací con huevos, crecí con pollos, y moriré con gallos” (I was born with eggs, raised with chickens, and I’ll die with roosters).
Moíses Jaimes, 50
Estado México, México
“En México, era gallero. Para mí, son un recuerdo de mis país – de mi tradición.” / “In México, I raised gallos. For me, they are a reminder of my country – of my tradition.”
José Guerrero, 57 / Noe Guerrero, 8
Guanajuato, México / Texas, USA
“Los tengo para que mis hijos vean como se nacen y se crecen los pollos.” / “I have them so that my children can learn how chickens are born and raised.”
Valdemar Arias, 43 / Angel Arias, 6 (Photographed with William Levy)
Guerrero, México / Texas, USA
“Cada mañana cuando oigo el canto, me quedo con los ojos cerrados por unos momentos, recordandome.“ / “Every morning when I hear the rooster’s call, I keep my eyes closed for a few moments, remembering.”
Héctor Tovar, 42
“Al oir el canto, me siento como si estuviera allá en mi pueblo” / “When I hear the rooster’s call, I feel like I’m back there in my hometown.”
Reyes Roblado, 55
San Luis Potosí, México
“A veces llegas a la casa y lo primero que quieres hacer es decenar a las gallinas – pues, estamos creados de animales.” / “Sometimes, you come home and the first thing you want is to feed your chickens – well, we were raised that way with animals.”
Estado México, México
“Mis padres los tenían en México – así nos creamos.“ / “My parents had them in Mexico – that’s how we were raised.”
Alex Morales, 15 / Diego Morales, 7 / Jairo Morales, 8 (Photographed with Macarena II)
Texas, USA (all of Mexican descent)
“Mi abuelito los tenía y así me acostumbre. Decidí entonces que he querido tener un gallo. Me da recuerdos de él.“ / “My grandfather had them and that’s how I got used to them. From then on, I decided that I wanted to have a rooster. It reminds me of him.”
Don Castelán, 50 (Photographed with Paloma I and II)
Estado México, México
Gerardo Ocon, 33
Texas, USA (of Honduran descent)
My final portrait brought together Castelán and Ocon. The two are neighbors, friends, and share a unique bond with the featured gallos. Ocon recounted to me how in 2012, his hens were attacked by two stray dogs. In response, Castelán’s and Ocon’s roosters fought the dogs and were able to run them off, saving the hens. Ocon’s rooster permanently lost its tail feathers however; and, Paloma nearly died after the attack. Both men were nearly brought to tears at the sight of their wounded gallos. And for Ocon, who inherited the chickens reluctantly, he told me it was the first time he realized the compassion he felt for his animals.