Cholitas – Fighting for Women’s Rights in La Paz

About 10 years ago local men in El Alto, located just above La Paz and Bolivia’s second largest city behind Santa Cruz, started offering wrestling fights. However, nobody seemed to be genuinely interested in the fights of these men. This changed dramatically when local Aymara women decided to make a point and show that they too are able to fight. They put on their traditional clothes and started their own wrestling matches. Known as “Cholitas“, they soon became the talk in town and were immediately more popular than their male colleagues. Once a derogatory term for indigenous or mixed heritage girls, the word “Cholita” has come to have positive connotations as a name for the empowered, fashion-conscious, resourceful and proud women of Bolivia.

It was an important statement in a country where indigenous women until only a few decades ago were often not allowed to enter certain restaurants or work in certain areas. Thankfully this has changed and Cholitas are now enjoying a much better status. We were told that some Cholitas who earned a lot of money through wrestling invested this money in building “Cholets” – a combination of the French word “chalet” and “cholita“. These are big and colorful houses, often with five or more stories. These houses can be found in El Alto, an area usually not known for expensive builings. However, the Cholita owners did not want to move anywhere else so they decided to build them in their own neighborhood. The wrestling event you see on the images below happened in such a “Cholet“.

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