You may not think wrestling and activism have much in common. But indigenous female wrestlers in Bolivia would disagree. These athletes are called the Fighting Cholitas. They are using their wrestling platform to fight against discrimination.
The Fighting Cholitas are part of the Aymara and Quechua peoples of Bolivia. For many years, many of the Aymara and Quechua lived only in rural areas. When they migrated to cities, they faced a lot of discrimination from other Bolivians. They were treated poorly and even banned from certain public places. The Aymara and Quechua did not gain the right to vote until 1952. They were sometimes referred to as “cholos” or “cholas,” disrespectful Spanish terms for indigenous people. However, these indigenous wrestlers have taken these words used against them and turned them into something positive. They call themselves “cholitas” because they are proud of their culture and history.
The Fighting Cholitas wrestle and box in a ring in El Alto, the second-largest city in Bolivia. About 20 years ago, the wrestling organizers introduced the female wrestling competition as a side act for a male wrestling show. Many Bolivian men did not think women should wrestle. They saw it as only a male sport. But the Fighting Cholitas proved them wrong. Their fights were so popular that the Fighting Cholitas quickly became the main act!
The Fighting Cholitas wrestle in traditional indigenous dress. They wear pleated skirts, shawls, bowler hats, and braids. The cholitas fight against gender stereotypes by showing their strength and skill. “We show that a woman can do whatever she puts her mind to,” said Mery Llanos, a cholita wrestler, in an interview. “We show society that we are strong and we respect our Aymara culture.”
Thousands of people come to watch and cheer for the Fighting Cholitas. Before a fight, the wrestlers come out to traditional indigenous music. Each match has a dramatic storyline between a “good” character and an “evil” character. Both wrestlers perform acrobatic moves to tell the story. The “good” character wins at the end and the crowd celebrates! Although the fight may be scripted, the wrestling moves and falls are real. The wrestlers show incredible acrobatic and athletic skill.
Now, there are multiple female wrestling groups in Bolivia. Through their athleticism in the ring, they show the world the strength and power of women.