Every Sunday, the Bolivian city of El Alto becomes a center of entertainment for locals and tourists. On a simple ring fight women wrestlers wearing the traditional Bolivian dress. The precariousness of these women, ethnic and sexist discriminations they face drive them to step into the ring to survive. Punches, exhibition, tourism and money are the main assets of a unique event that creates passion and controversy in Bolivian society.
Specializing my journalistic work on women rights I was very interested in meeting the Bolivia’s women wrestlers. Women who jump into wrestling ring for 22 dollars the fight. A huge amount of money in Bolivia where the lowest salary is about 70 dollars per month. These women who live in very poor conditions in El Alto are Aymaras (indigenous people of the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America). They suffer of gender discrimination in a conservative country where men have power and also suffer of ethnic discrimination. Being Aymara and wearing the traditional Bolivian dress (the round hat and the long skirt) is not well seen by upper middle class. Many of them told me that they were not allowed to enter in some supermarkets with the Bolivian dress. Evo Morales first indigenous Bolivia’s president tried to improve Aymara people’s lives but, as far as I am concerned, nine years later he didn’t succeed in making it.
To enter in contact with them I spent a lot of time making phone calls from Argentina and I spoke with many people of El Alto city. I realized that it didn’t work at all because nobody was able to give me a real contact to get in touch with the Bolivia’s women wrestlers. So, I had to travel to Bolivia without knowing if I was going to do my photo documentary. After two days in La Paz, thanks to a travel agency, I succeeded in getting in touch with the founder of the women Bolivians wrestlers. His name was Juan Mamani and when I first met him he directly told me: « if you want to do a documentary on my wrestlers you have to pay! » I looked at him and said » Sorry, but I don’t pay for doing my job ». I tried to negotiate giving him my best journalist’s arguments but he didn’t change his mind and went away. I was really worried about my work and angry at him for asking me money. Two days later, I went to the Coliseum in El Alto to watch the wrestlers show. In the ring Carmen Rojas –the woman wrestler I followed for the photo documentary- was biting Marta la Altena’s head. Suddenly, Carmen lifted Marta’s skirt showing her panties and slapped her butt! Everybody in the stands was laughing excluding Juan Mamani (the founder and manager). I knew thanks to my hotel receptionist in La Paz that some women wrestlers argued with Juan Mamani. They split up and created their own women Bolivians wrestlers association. It was an interesting news but I couldn’t work with them because I needed to do a documentary about the genesis of women wrestlers in Bolivia.
When the show ended, I come to speak to Juan Mamani: « I’ve heard that there is another girl wrestling association. I might do the photo documentary with them! » He smiled at me and said: « alright gringo! You can do it but I only give you 3 hours! » It was amazingly short but I could do both the photographs and interviews.