Indigenous Bolivians have been discriminated against since Spanish conquistadors first arrived in the country. These problems are multiplied for cholitas, who have suffered from prejudice of both gender and race. Once too ashamed to even wear their traditional clothing in public, the modern cholita feels a renewed sense of pride partly thanks to huge improvements in indigenous rights brought about by the current Aymara president Evo Morales.
Carmen Rosa, whose real name is Ana Polonia Choque, is one of the original cholita wrestlers. In the beginning, the few women who practiced the sport did so to vent frustration over domestic violence and form new social networks. As momentum began to build and more cholitas got involved, an entrepreneurial promoter named Juan Mamani convinced them to perform professionally.
But as is all too common is these situations, the women were underpaid and their male managers took the biggest slice of the pie. In 2008, the no-nonsense Rosa used her influence as a wrestling superstar to convince the other women to ditch their current work contracts and help her form a female run Cholitas Wrestling Foundation. With this new organization in place, the women were able to keep a far more generous share of the profits.
Unfortunately, despite the success of the foundation, Rosa and her colleagues still aren’t able to earn a living from a sport with such a limited following. To make ends meet, she cooks lunch everyday at her modest restaurant in downtown La Paz.
Although far from becoming an international superstar, Rosa is a revered and respected celebrity among those in the local wrestling community. Known as La Campeona (The Champion), she aims to personify indigenous Bolivian women through her strength, determination and passion. Wearing her pollera (traditional dress) with pride, this Bolivian icon has punched, kicked and suplexed her way into the hearts and minds of her fans.
As for her thoughts on the future: “Now I see the future of women’s wrestling as a bright one. I am helping new generations of fighters, girls who are interested in the art of wrestling. We are growing, and the discipline is growing. I have high hopes that, who knows, maybe some day a pollera woman will be fighting at the Olympics with her bowler hat on and her pigtails swinging.”