History of the Cholitas Wrestlers
Imagine you’re sitting in a crowded gymnasium, eating popcorn and sipping on an orange Fanta when a woman of about 5 ft (1.52 m) walks in with a colorful ankle length skirt, dangling silver earrings, a black top hat, and tasseled shawl. She proceeds to walk to the center of the gymnasium, where there is a sweaty, shirtless man in rainbow tights standing next to a referee. Next thing you know the man in the rainbow tights is toppled over on the floor whimpering after suffering a brutal blow to the stomach, and the woman is now body slamming the referee while crowds of people throw soda across the gym! This madness is Cholitas wrestling in Bolivia.
Cholitas wrestlers are fighting against systematic discrimination in all its forms - classism, racism, sexism - in the rink and throughout daily life in Bolivia. Indigenous women dressed in traditional clothing are shocking the world as they throw down any opponent who dares to enter the wrestling rink. Cholitas or Cholas is a derogatory term used in Bolivia to describe indigenous women who were once predominantly farmers and have migrated to major cities in order to find a better life. For decades of Bolivian history until present day, these women have been considered an inferior class by society. Unfortunately, society dictates that indigenous women who migrate from rural areas to the big cities should be bound to menial work in the home as servants, or on the streets as vendors.
With hopes of gaining real influence in Bolivian politics, society, and economy, indigenous women are breaking the shackles of these negative stereotypes in amazing ways: from scaling up some of the tallest mountains in the Cordillera Real (6,000 meters) to showing their strength in the wrestling rink. Cholitas wrestling, influenced by the U.S.’s WWE and Mexico’s lucha libre fighters, began as a way for women to fight back against the racist pachriarchy. Now the fighting Cholitas are gaining international acclaim for their fighting style as they continue to triumph in this once male-dominated sport. Although the fights are technically choreographed, they are in a way real as the indigenous women metaphorically fight to establish themselves in a society where they have historically been marginalized. Bolivia has an overwhelmingly macho culture where men have a monopoly on power (like most parts of the world), but when the fighting begins the Cholitas command the respect of everyone in the arena.
How to see a Fight in La Paz
The Cholitas began fighting in the early 2000’s in a municipality called El Alto, just a 30 minute ride from La Paz, where the fights still take place. The easiest way to see a show is to reserve a ticket through Red Cap Tours ($13) or Kanoo Tours ($14). Although booking this way is extremely touristic and a bit more expensive than to just buy tickets at the fight location, your booking comes with transport to and from the arena, VIP seats, a free soda and popcorn, and a free souvenir (your choice between three postcards or a keychain). The tour company will pick you up from a central location in La Paz and drop you off at Iglesia San Francisco when the fight is over. Keep in mind that if you book with a company, these are not guided tours, so no historical explanation or further information will be given about the fights.
Going to a Cholitas fight was my first experience with live wrestling, and I loved it! I certainly wouldn’t want to get stuck in a rink with one of these badass ladies. There are male and female wrestlers, but the crowd goes wild when the Cholitas take the stage after the male fighters open the show. My favorite part was watching little girls from the audience run up to male wrestlers and scream in their faces while throwing soda on them if the wrestlers did something the girls didn’t like (#grlpwr). Don’t be afraid to scream, throw food, and cheer - get into it! As the show began I was nervous because it opened with female dancers in tight clothes introducing male fighters, but as soon as the Cholitas took the stage my doubts subsided. Some of the Cholitas even grab men from the audience to dance with, giving a them a kiss on the cheek when making their grand entrance. My only warning is that some of these fights involve women fighting with men, which might make some people uncomfortable or be a trigger if you have suffered from domestic abuse. Keep in mind that when the Cholitas fight with men, it is meant to be symbolic of changing gender roles and identity struggles in Bolivia. Comment below if you have any questions about Cholitas wrestling.
How to Prepare for the Fight:
The municipality of El Alto is true to its name, meaning tall in Spanish, so bring coca leaves or candies if you suffer from altitude sickness.
Don’t wear any nice clothing as you are likely to get soaked in water, soda, popcorn, chips and the like. These fights can get heated and the audience gets hyped - throwing food and drinks at the wrestlers is a common form of audience participation.
Bring a camera!