Meet the Cholitas of Bolivia

You don’t know what you’re missing out on if you’re not familiar with these fantastic women. Bolivia’s brave Cholitas show us how to stand proud and be who we are, no matter the backlash we receive. 

But who are Cholitas? So, let us introduce you to women that came from being a symbol of backwardness to a symbol of strength. They have a lot of lessons to teach us.

Not-So-Ordinary Girl — What Are Cholitas?

When you think of indigenous people, how do you imagine them? Do they wear unique clothing, look differently, or simply stand out from the rest in some way? All of that applies to Cholitas of Bolivia.

The word “chola” didn’t always have the meaning it does today. It used to be a derogatory term for people of mixed descent, mainly Spanish and indigenous. As time passed, the word transformed into its more endearing version — cholita. Basically, this word stands for indigenous women of the Aymara cultural group. Other cultural groups, such as the Quechua, can also fit this description, but the Aymara definitely outnumber them all. 

After years of discrimination, which we will also get into, cholitas have reclaimed this derogatory term and made it their own. Now they’re something you simply cannot avoid seeing whenever you visit Bolivia. 

Their Distinctive Look

These women are now a staple of every Bolivian city, and especially their two capitals, Sucre and La Paz. There are so many things that make them stand out. However, what makes people recognize them from a mile away the most is their unique Cholita fashion. 

For an Aymara woman to be considered a Cholita, she needs to dress a certain way. Actually, there are several clothing items that make an outfit complete. Those are the bowler hat, a pollera (pleated, layered skirt), a shawl, the aguayo (consider it a cloth backpack), and jewelry. Of course, we can’t forget about the unique hairstyle, which consists of two long braids.

The Cholita fashion didn’t include all of those things until just recently. For example, their wearing bowler hats happened by mistake. Namely, it turned out that a shipment of hats for railroad workers came with hats that were too small. So, what did they do? People gave them to local women!

Early Discrimination

However, Cholitas weren’t always as adored as they are now. Becoming one of the symbols of the country was a very steep hill these women had to climb. They didn’t have to do that, but the discrimination they experienced just became too much.

Their story is all but a happy one. Ever since the colonization, people have looked down upon them. They would consider Cholitas inferior, mere villagers who didn’t belong in the cities. Not only that, but they were once a symbol of backwardness. Why? Well, living in such modern times, you can’t possibly stay close to your roots without seeming odd, sadly. 

All of that would result in them being banned from many public places. That included taxis and public transportation, and eating in restaurants was only an unreachable dream. Do you think that was all? Imagine banning someone from walking freely in public spaces that people consider respectable. Nobody can really imagine everything they went through. 

Their discrimination finally came to an end just recently, no more than a decade ago. Yes, just until recently, people would harass these women on a daily basis and even deny them service. How do you fight such oppression and win? Only the Cholitas know. 

Another thing is that they weren’t able to get jobs in high ranking positions. They would face denial wherever they looked, but all of that came to an end as soon as an indigenous person became president. He made sure that Cholitas would never face such horrible treatment again.  

How They Came Roaring Back

Once Evo Morales, the first indigenous president, came to power in 2005, everything shifted. He fought hard so that the indigenous people would be treated equally. What does all that mean for the indigenous population, especially Cholitas? Let’s find out. 

First and foremost, schools now have a mandatory indigenous language for kids to learn — either Aymara or Quechua. That means so much for a number of reasons. Not only will kids be better introduced to indigenous people, but indigenous people themselves can become teachers.

Having better education means a lot of different things. You can now find Cholitas in political positions, as congresswomen, for example. That means that they’ll be able to further fight for themselves and their sisters. 

These women are now cultural symbols of empowerment, strength, and resilience in Bolivia. They went through so much just to get here. However, there’s another thing that makes these ladies stand out — Cholita wrestling! Yes, you did read that correctly. 

The Fighting Cholitas is a wrestling show, drawing its roots from the staged wrestling shows found in Mexico, also known as Lucha Libre. Seeing them fight is both entertaining and hilarious. Now, people thought that they’re practicing some kind of ancient Bolivian martial art. That’s quite far away from the truth, though.

Modeling schools are also available to young Cholitas now. In the same fashion, women are putting on fashion shows where they display the fashion they wear and we all know and love. Being a Cholita now definitely comes with benefits nobody thought would ever be possible or available. Being a symbol of a country definitely isn’t easy, but these women are used to carrying heavy burdens on their backs. They’ve been doing it throughout their undeserved oppression, so now they get to shine a positive light on what it means to be a unique woman of Bolivia. 

Conclusion

Facing years of oppression led to these women enjoying the status they have today. Now, everybody knows and loves them. Their fashion is unique, forcing people from all over the world to come and take a look. Today they are teachers, entertainers, congresswomen, and symbols of strength and pride the world has never seen.