Every Sunday afternoon on the city of El Alto, once merely suburb of the city of La Paz situated at 4,150 meter high, hundreds of Bolivians and tourists cue at the door of the 12th October Sports Complex to see women wrestling. The fighting is performed by Cholitas, indigenous women that wear their pollera (a multilayers lively colour skirts), braided hair and bowler hats on the ring.
In the past, women that used the pollera were repressed, isolated. “Our ancestors would say that women on pollera couldn’t even write or read, they didn’t even have the right to learn”, tells me Mary Llanos Sanz, 31, commonly known as Juanita La Cariñosa, leader of the fighting Cholitas. Nowadays they can do anything; they are respected, and slowly they started taking essential places in the Bolivian society.
It all started because the wrestling in Bolivia was not going so well. The public lost the interest in it. A fighter and promoter, Juan Mamani, had the idea to put Cholitas on the ring to attract public. Things started going well, but mostly for the promoter who kept most of the money. The women after years of exploitation decide to leave and take over their destiny. On July 2014, they formed an association where they are all responsible and where everyone has a voice.
Not everything on the ring is a spectacle. The falls and the blows are real, and even if they are friends outside the ring, inside, they take it seriously. Mostly is done for the fame and glamour, since the money is too little because they have to cover the rent of the space and ring, transports and hopefully in the future insurance that they can’t afford it now. On a typical Sunday, they can earn between 150 to 200 Bolivianos (US$21-$US28).
To be able to wrestle, a Cholita has to do one year of introduction to real practice. If they make that year, then they are allowed to step into the ring and fight. But the hardest part is to their boyfriends and husbands accept their sport. In a machismo society as the Bolivian one, men feel an inferiority complex to be with strong women, which leads to around 90% of the fighters to be separated and divorced. Many of them prefer to keep fighting on the ring and outside for their sport and their freedom as women.