Not so long ago, cholita was an entirely derogatory term used exclusively to belittle indigenous women for their clothing and their customs. In recent years, however, an indigenous rights revolution spearheaded by the current Aymara president Evo Morales has restored a sense of pride among these once marginalized people. Cholitas can now don their traditional pollera (skirt), shawl and bowler hat without fear of retribution; both in the streets of La Paz and in the wrestling ring.
Although wrestling has been popular in Bolivia since the 50s, it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that women began to get involved. Around that time, Indigenous domestic violence victims started practicing the sport as a way to make friends, relieve stress, and gain back a sense of empowerment. A rather astute promoter by the name of Juan Mamani realized the untapped potential and, with some clever marketing, brought the pass time into the professional realm.
Although these athletes may not be as high profile as those of the W.W.E., they do have a pretty serious repertoire of theatrical stunts. Expect both genders to perform suplexes, body slams, and high-flying acrobatic maneuvers throughout the show as they punch, kick, and pull each other’s hair until one goes down for the count. The entire spectacle lasts a marathon four hours, although most foreigners just leave as their interest starts to wane.
The performers and promoters of Cholitas Wrestling have become adept at giving audiences exactly what they want, a fun-filled show that is as outrageous as it is ridiculous. For gringos in the front row, audience participation can be difficult to avoid. Expect boisterous cholitas to steal kisses from the more handsome backpackers, while drinks and popcorn thrown between the performers and the crowd is all just part of the show.
True to its historical roots, Cholitas Wrestling is a theatrical representation of domestic violence, an issue all too prevalent in Bolivia. Matches typically begin with a male villain viciously beating on his seemingly helpless female opponent, an uncomfortable spectacle despite being completely staged. Thankfully, however, the cholita eventually finds the strength to fight back against her abuser and lays an impressive smack down to much fanfare and applause.
Matches occur at 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 5:30 p.m. on Sundays at the Multifuncional Ceja de el Alto (take a bus or red teleferico to La Ceja). Most travelers arrive as part of a tour which includes return transport, guide, and entry for 80 BOB (US$11), making it only marginally more expensive than going it alone. Note that the city of El Alto is not the best place for foreigners to wander around after dark.