We all know that women worldwide do the lion’s share of housework and child rearing,
while receiving less pay for equal work. Many women wrestle with the task of maintaining a household or small business, but what about actually wrestling? As in choke holds and pile-drivers? And how about wrestling in your native costume, in this case a long skirt with an outrageous petticoat and Andean hat? In Bolivia, female wrestlers known as cholitas do just that for the pleasure of crowds.
The very word cholita is contentious. One Peruvian-American woman contends that it is a term of endearment, stating that her own mother was called chola or cholita. “A ‘cholita’ is a girl of native or mixed heritage,” she says. “Used among friends, family and neighbors, it is a warm reference also commonly used to describe indigenous women selling their goods at the markets.” Another site explaining the word’s origin maintains that “A ‘cholita’ is a slang term for a tough girl, the way ‘cholo’ can refer to a tough guy. It can be a positive or derogatory term.”
Despite the word’s murky origins and use, Indian Bolivian women have reclaimed cholita, just as marginalized groups in America have recovered other pejoratives used to injure. An article entitled, “Lucha Libre & the Fighting Cholitas,” notes that there is even a Miss Cholita pageant. However, the author adds… “it’s still a dangerous word for gringos to be tossing about.”
The significance of indigenous women wrestling goes beyond providing entertainment for tourists and their countrymen. Cholitas confront their country’s ugly racist and colonialist past while subverting traditional notions of femininity. As wrestler Carmen Rosa explains, “Because we cholitas have been humiliated and very discriminated in the past that is what mostly drove me to be a fighter. I also wanted to show people, not only Bolivia but around the world, that a woman can do what men do.”
Moreover, the phenomenon of cholita wrestling provides economic opportunity for working-class women. In the words of Bolivian blogger and cholita-wrestling promoter Alberto Medrano, “Most cholitas are housewives from low-income families who train as wrestlers on the side. They train very hard, with well-known professional wrestlers like Kid Simonini. They learn how to tackle, throw their opponent, hold him or her down, dodge blows, jump and fall without hurting themselves. Some of them become really excellent wrestlers and famous in their own right.”
The famous feminist quote “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels” applies here.
Feminist and anthropological analysis aside, seeing a cholita match is definitely on my bucket list!