JULY 2013 BACK ISSUE by James Morgan
Yolanda La Amarosa flies through the air in a swirl of gold lamé and petticoats, her calves clamped around the throat of her unfortunate opponent. He spins across the ring to land in a sprawl on the canvas, hand pressed against his lower back, face set in a grimace of agony. Quieres mas, cabron? Yolanda cries as she strides over and kicks him in the back of the head. There's a ripple of applause and laughter from her fellow wrestlers, who are hanging on the ropes, waiting their turn to practice the same sequence. The ring is set up in a junkyard on the outskirts of El Alto, a sprawling migrant city that was once just a suburb of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. The wrestlers are training on torn mattresses atop wooden planks. It's late afternoon and the sun dips quickly behind the peaks of the altiplano. At well over 4000 metres, the air is thin and freezing.  As the session ends, Yolanda puts her bowler hat on at a jaunty angle, sits on a pile of bricks and asks me, que quieres saber…? Yolanda Veraluz was one of the first cholita luchadores in Bolivia. Like almost all her fellow female wrestlers, she's indigenous Aymara - a descendant of the Tiahuanaco culture that predated the Inca. Women started wrestling in Bolivia in the nineties, going head to head with the men. In a country where machismo is almost a reflex, the cholita luchadores have become a symbol of female empowerment - a fact of which Yolanda is all too aware. "We've shown that women don't have to accept discrimination and humiliation… that a woman can speak with the same voice as the man. She has the same rights as her husband - to study, to work, to get ahead." Once derogatory, the chola moniker has become a source of pride. In October 2011, many of the top cholita wrestlers broke away from the main wrestling organization, Titanes del Ring, which was dominated by one man, Juan Mamani. Disillusioned with Mamani's autocratic approach, they set up an independent association and are going it alone. "Juan Mamani stole our money," says Yolanda. "But we realized that we don't need him. We can do this ourselves." Populist president Evo Morales has been a vocal champion of Bolivia's predominantly poor indigenous population - in particular its women. In 2010, he put together a cabinet that was evenly split between genders and which included three indigenous women. There are now signs of an emerging indigenous middle class in the capital La Paz. "Five years ago, we were looked down upon - we used to just wait on the rich," Yolanda tells me. "But now, thanks to our President, we're working in banks, in offices and even in government." Yolanda La Amorosa takes to the air during a training session in Zona Complejo, El Alto; her unfortunate opponent will have to break her fall. An indigenous woman begs outside Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz. La Paz has long been a place of both indigenous and gender discrimination, as well as a hotbed of revolution. Marta La Altena adds the final touches to her wrestling costume in preparation for her Sunday night bout. Marta - real name Jenny Mamani Herrera - supplements her income from wrestling by making and selling associated paraphernalia. Marta La Altena and her sister, Maria la Maldita - real name Maria Mamani Herrera -  put on earrings and make up before Martha's fight in El Alto later that night. Only women from the Aymara ethnic group wear the distinctive bowler hats, introduced in the early 1900's. Marta La Altena leaves home late on a Sunday afternoon for her fight that evening. Her sister, Maria la Maldita, an ex Lucha Libre champion, is pregnant and stays at home. She runs a small store close by - though wrestling can bring some fame, it brings in very little money. Veteran wrestler Yolanda La Amorosa chokes relative newcomer Mercedes La Extremista against the top rope during a training session at a homemade ring on the outskirts of El Alto. The only padding is some old mattresses atop planks of wood. Yolanda La Amorosa tangles with Mercedes La Extremista during a training session in El Alto. Yolanda recently injured her back quite seriously and has just returned to training after a 3 month hiatus. The Cholita Luchadores wrestle in the traditional clothes of the Aymara woman, which date back as far as the 17th century. Yolanda La Amorosa shows how flimsy and slippery the colourful slippers are compared to the professional boots the men wear. Mariella Averanga aka 'Denita la Intocable' , ringside before her fight with Martha La Altena. She is 31 years of age, and has one daughter. Her day job is as a shop owner. Denita La Intocable exhorts her fans to make some noise during her bout with the evil Marta La Altena. Residents of El Alto riveted by the Sunday afternoon action at the 12 Octubre Stadium. The vast majority of the city's population is indigenous - and poor. The weekly bouts make for an inexpensive family day out. Denita La Intocable tries to stagger to her feet during her bout with Marta La Altena. As with All In Wrestling around the world, each wrestler has a good or evil persona - Denita 'The Untouchable' is one of the good guys - though that doesn't prevent her losing her bout on this occasion. Martha puts Denita into a rear naked choke during their fight at a repurposed warehouse in El Alto. Denita's plight is not helped by the fact that the referee is ludicrously biased towards her opponent. The tides turn for the umpteenth time during the fight between Denita La Intocable and Marta La Altena as the theatrics continue to unfold. as the theatrics continue to unfold. Marta La Altena aka Jenny Mamani Herrera gives her daughter some money to buy groceries with. Her real life personality is a far cry from her evil wrestling persona. Back to current issue