Review — ‘The Wrestling Cholitas of Bolivia’

Books Entertainment Reviews

The Wrestling Cholitas of Bolivia by Claudia Bellante, illustrated by Anna Carbone

This book was originally written (in Spanish) and illustrated in 2020, and I am glad to present it now translated into English. Not only because it talks about two young girls who enjoy wrestling, but because the city they live in is the twin city of my own—El Alto and La Paz, respectively—and because cholitas are a big part of our cultural heritage.

Noelia and Wara are two girls who live in the city of El Alto, Bolivia. They like to wrestle… in a manner that might remind you of Mexican-style arena wrestling, complete with heroes and villains and flair for the dramatic. This corner of pop culture has been a rare winning space for cholitas, Aymara indigenous women who love to dress in colorful clothes and Borsalino hats.

This attire is not exactly a costume, it’s more a way of embracing their new identity under Spanish rule. When the Spaniards conquered the Incan empire, they enforced their clothing rules on the population. Soon the textiles and styles started to diverge, a new way of dressing was born, and the length of the skirts was quickly adapted to the different altitudes and temperatures of the land. The traditional Spanish mantilla and pollera (skirt) were changed, the hair was braided, and women started using this clothing as a show of ethnic pride, one of the examples of our cultural syncretism.

And I have to tell you, cholitas are everywhere. We have a female superhero called Supercholita, we have seen them in fashion shows from New York to Paris (I have a precious picture of the models looking at framed pieces of art in Versailles, France), and cholitas have even conquered mountains, all in skirts! They power our economy and proudly speak both Aymara and Spanish. And every Sunday, they perform in the ring, one of the highlights of El Alto tourism.

The picture book is a love letter to cholitas, with accurate imagery backed up by unimaginable talent. Even though it is not written by an Aymara woman or illustrated by a Bolivian, it has been done with true respect and has me smacking my head and saying, “Why haven’t we done anything like this yet?!” (My other question would be, if we had done it, would it be as widely displayed and translated?)

The stories told by Claudia Bellante are part of a larger work: Against All Odds, a picture book series that features true stories of brave boys and girls from different parts of the world—Jamaican, Venezuelan, and Afghani kids who are changing their own lives bit by bit.

The series is intended to promote diversity and acceptance by “exposing children to kids’ stories from faraway places, facing unique situations or overcoming prejudice.” As a writer from a faraway and exotic place, I welcome the fact that Claudia could come to Bolivia and talk about Noelia and Wara. Initially, I was concerned with the Western appropriation practices we often see in mainstream media—where Europeans and North Americans get to tell the Western world about our heritage through their own filtered lens, which would be like me writing a Bolivian book about Italian kids discovering the joy of pasta—but here we are. This is the first picture book about wrestling cholitas to have been ever made (although we did it in comic form), and I am happy to feature it here, where those like the heroes of the story can see themselves.

The Wrestling Cholitas of Bolivia is available on November 22, 2022.

Publisher: Crocodile Books
Publish Date: November 22, 2022
Pages: 32
Type: Hardcover
EAN/UPC: 9781623718077

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