As a kid I loved to watch WWF wrestling. The Ultimate Warrior was my favorite and my brother and I spent hours playing Royal Rumble on the Nintendo. One year I got my dad to take me to a restaurant Thanksgiving weekend to watch the Survivor Series event and another year went to a friend’s house to watch the Royal Rumble. Our first Christmas in Auburn, I remember that my brother and I got each other the same present – a Hulk Hogan action figure where the arms wind up for a body slam. We played with those guys until the arms stopped working! I remember when Undertaker joined the (WWF and apparently still hasn’t left). I remember when TugBoat became Typhoon and partnered with Earthquake. And I remember when the WWF became patriotic during the Desert Storm and Hulk Hogan defeated Sgt. Slaughter. I lost interest as I grew up and other things became more important (and the WCW became a thing), but I have a lot of memories enjoying the WWF.
Fast-forward to many years later while my wife and I are traveling in Bolivia, I get to finally go to my first WWF-ish event – the Titans of the Ring, featuring the Fighting Cholitas.
Once a derogatory term for indigenous or mixed heritage girls, the word “Cholita” has come to have positive connotations as a name for the empowered, fashion-conscious, resourceful and proud women of Bolivia. – la paz life
Cholitas get their distinctive dress from being forced to adopt European fashion when colonized by Spain. It was unlawful for them to stray from the “uniform” of a blouse, multilayered skirt, and shawl. The women kept some semblance of indigenous identity by wearing the multicolored wrap to carry babies or groceries on their backs. And at some point they adopted bowler hats, too. This is the exact way that they dress today.
These women of Aymara descent are helping to open up new avenues for indigenous women to work and earn incomes. Knowing a little of the background about why women were wrestling and how it’s actually an empowering endeavor, I think helped Danielle agree to go with me on Sunday evening to see what this mixture of WWF and Mexican Lucha Libre was all about.
We rode our tour bus up to El Alto (The Heights), a suburb of one million looming over La Paz to the West. It is a manufacturing center with lots of factories producing among the many products, replica named brand apparel that is so high quality, that you might not notice the difference between a real Nike or North Face shirt or jacket. It has also been a center for gender and racial equality as the city
broke gender barriers by hiring “cholitas” in December, 2013. These Aymara women dressed in traditional multi-layered Andean skirts and brightly embroidered vests, work as traffic cops to bring order to its road chaos. In recent years, Bolivia’s cholitas have been breaking social barriers, conducting television programs, working in offices, holding public posts and even participating in native fashion-shows and beauty contests. – wikipedia
This was the first time during our 2 and a half months in South America that we purchased a tour. It was cheap – 60 bolivianos per person, about $8.50, and included the bus ride up to the arena, VIP tickets, popcorn, soda, and a souvenir. We quickly appreciated our purchase as it allowed us to meet some other travelers, hear more about the history of the Cholitas and the area of El Alto, and the VIP seats were ringside, so we had a great view of the action.
Walking in to the arena, we saw the six sided ring down the walkway from the wrestler entrance and found some seats near the barricades that would, most of the time, separate us from the action. All along the ring, were the VIP seats of tourists and behind us, completely filling the bleachers were Bolivian locals and lots of kids. Soon the announcer started introductions and out came the referee and managers for each wrestler. Following them were two male wrestlers. For anyone that has ever seen a WWF event, this would all be familiar right down to the loud entrance music. The only thing missing was the crowd’s enthusiasm. That wouldn’t come until the Cholitas appeared.
After a couple of male wrestling matches, we could hear the anticipation and knew that we were about to get our first dose of the “main event.” As the first Cholita appeared, the crowd started to cheer. She danced down the walkway and around the crowd bringing one enthusiastic tourist up on to the ring. As she performed a very modest striptease and lap dance for the man on stage, her opponent entered the ring and proceeded to flatten both of them, knocking the chair the tourist was on backward. I learned a long time ago, when your entrance is too flamboyant and your aren’t paying enough attention, you may get flatted before the match even starts.
Each match was entertaining, with different twists and turns as the plots unfolded. At times the acting (and yes, it was all acting) was a bad replica of the WWF, but more often than not, the acrobatics, versatility, and pure skill of the wrestlers was exciting to watch. A few highlights:
– An early male match between SpongeBob SquarePants and a poor replica of the Joker, complete with managers coming in to the ring and shenanigans when the referee was distracted.
– An old crone (possibly male, possibly female) against two small and young Cholitas. This one displayed some crazy acrobatics from the young Cholitas and the inevitable win by the old crone who hobbled around, except when she was body slamming her opponents.
– A rumble that spilled in to the aisle behind our seats. This one featured chairs and trash cans flying. I was on the other side of the arena as this was happening, buying popcorn, leaving Danielle to fend for herself.
Overall, this was a great way to see a part of Bolivian culture and have a fun evening reliving a bit of my childhood.