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When action speaks louder than words – Wrestling Cholitas

Bolivia is the home of high-altitude cities, breathtaking nature – and a group of wrestling women. After years of financial exploitation, the Cholitas formed their own alliance, kicked out their oppressors and continued to do what they love and empowers them most: wrestling.

Every Sunday in El Alto, at 4,150 meters above sea level, hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the 12th October Sports Complex to see the Wrestling Cholitas. It is a cheerful event with food and drinks and live music. Sunday wrestling matches are a highlight for many locals, who even bring their children to see their female heroes in action.

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Female empowerment

Female empowerment

The Wrestling Cholitas are a collective of Luchadoras, as female wrestlers are known. To them, wrestling is a form of female empowerment and a way to fight the machismo culture that is still predominant in Bolivia.

The word cholita was once used to refer negatively to someone of mixed-race or native heritage. The term has since taken on more positive associations, and cholita (-ita meaning small) is now used to refer to an empowered, fashion-conscious Bolivian woman.

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The art of wrestling

The art of wrestling

Body-slamming, head-locking, braid-pulling: the wrestling style is heavily influenced by professional wrestling and reminiscent of Mexico’s famous lucha libre, a type of wrestling style where male wrestlers, the Luchadores, in shiny spandex suits and masks use all sorts of tricks and tackling maneuvers to defeat their opponents. The matches are always staged and use a mix of acrobatics, good guy versus bad guy routines and comical confrontations. In the end, evil is usually defeated.

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Fighting in skirts and dress shoes

Fighting in skirts and dress shoes

Probably one of the most remarkable attributes of the Wrestling Cholitas is that they fight in the traditional attire of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua people: polleras – skirts with multiple petticoats – frilly shawls and dainty dress shoes. And their iconic staple, the tiny bowler hat: ordered for British rail workers in Bolivia at the turn of the century, and later given to the women since they were the wrong size. Or so the story goes.

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Running the show

Running the show

The Cholitas sew their own costumes, organize their fights, coordinate with other women, sell snacks and drinks, and rip tickets at the entrance. Wrestling does not make them a living and most of the members have day jobs.

How it all started

How it all started

Cholita wrestling started almost two decades ago as a publicity stunt due to a lack of interest in the sport. Wrestler and promoter Juan Mamani put the Cholitas in the ring to observe the audience’s reaction. Lo and behold, they were a big success. Most of the money, however, stayed in Mamani’s pocket. That changed in 2014 when a group of Luchadoras got together and formed their own association where every member had a voice. Back then, wrestling was a means of releasing built-up tension from domestic abuse. Today, it’s an expression of freedom, indigenous pride and feminism.

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The courage to take ownership

The Wrestling Cholitas refused to accept the status quo. They overcame hurdles and obstacles. They took personal responsibility for their lives and ownership of their careers, and are now an empowered group of women that continues to inspire others.

This is exactly what characterizes us at Vontobel: the tenacity to stick to our convictions – even against consensus. Driven by an ownership mindset, we stand for empowerment and personal responsibility. We believe in the talent of our people, give them room to maneuver and empower them in every position.

Inspired to take ownership? Let’s talk.

Inspired to take ownership? Let’s talk.

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