Bolivia’s Cholita Wrestlers and Mountain Climbers Transform Stereotypes with Fierce Acts of Empowerment

The Flying Cholitas are an association of female wrestlers based in El Alto, Bolivia who are brilliantly transforming the centuries-old stereotypes of marginalized indigenous Aymara women. They compete in the Aymara’s hallmark voluminous petticoats, little flat pumps, colorful skirts and long-sleeved lace tops and proudly call themselves “Cholita”, originally a derogatory term. For the fierce, acrobatic wrestlers, embracing the identifier “Cholita” and the traditional ensembles are ways to show pride in their history and take back their visibility.

Their joy, mastery and self-possession are transforming the way indigenous women around the country see themselves, encouraging new forms of personal and cultural expression.

Like the Flying Cholitas, the Climbing Cholitas — “Cholitas Escaladoras” — wear traditional costume as they climb mountains, using their shawls to carry equipment instead of backpacks.

Todd Antony

According to the Guardian, in 2014, a group of Aymara indigenous women who worked as porters and cooks for mountaineers decided to try climbing for themselves. They wore crampons —spikes fixed to climbing boots — under their traditional skirts. Within two years, they had scaled five peaks in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real range, including Illimani, the highest. Andean natives, they have the advantage of being well acclimated to the thin air of high altitudes.

Marzena Wystrach for El Pais

In January 2019 Las Cholitas Escaladoras summited the 22,841 foot peak Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in the southern and western hemispheres.

Their motto is, Querer es poder. To want is power, or perhaps, To want is to be able.

Todd Antony

Photographer Todd Antony has documented The Flying Cholitas and the Climbing Cholitas. See more of his images here.

 

With thanks to Susan Dworski.

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