Throughout history, Indigenous Bolivian women have had an uphill battle. They have faced obstacles for being both female and of color, and they've also had to fight hard for the preservation of their culture. As recently as 20 years ago, cholitas—an originally derogatory name for Quechua and Aymara women who sport traditional bowler hats, big colorful skirts, and long braids—were facing ostracism in societies that champion white, Catholic, and European values.
The tide has begun to turn towards the young Bolivian women who proudly integrate their ancestry into their daily lives while excelling in their personal endeavors. Peru-born, Miami-based photographer Celia D. Luna was inspired by their stories and set to shine a light on them with her series Cholitas Bravas.
After spotlighting Indigenous female rock climbers and wrestlers, the photographer was drawn to a group of female skaters in the city of Cochabamba. They became part of a new project within the Cholitas Bravas series: Cholitas Skaters. “I was fascinated that they practiced an extreme sport that is usually dominated by men,” Luna tells My Modern Met. “Not only did they excel at skating but they also embraced their culture by skating while wearing their traditional clothes. They're so proud of their ancestors and heritage, something that I also value very much. It was a combination of culture, beauty and defiance that I just had to capture.”
Luna related to their story from the very first moment. She spent her childhood immersed in the traditional Andean traditions that inform her work to this day while being raised by a hard-working single mother. Her mom's resilience and dedication have been a source of strength and inspiration to the photographer throughout her life. “One of the things I appreciated the most about the Cholitas Bravas is their connection with their mothers and grandmothers. They mentioned how much they influenced their lives and how they have inspired them to feel proud of their culture.”
Throughout the images, the jewel-toned colors of their garments shine among the warm tones of the Cochabamba skate park. While their skirts and braids take visual precedence as they sway with the wind and their movements, these women know their sport very well. It's charming to see a traditional outfit mixed with dedicated skating shoes, such as Vans and Adidas sneakers. Each of their personalities also shines through their choice of accessories, from Bart Simpson socks to custom skateboards.
For this project, Luna's mother was more than one of the driving forces behind it; she also participated as an assistant to the photographer. “It was so special to share this adventure with her. She also loves to travel so she was IN the moment I asked to come with me. She couldn't help me with the equipment too much but she made sure I was properly fed every day.”
Food, much like clothes, was an element both the photographer and subjects rallied around to pursue new ideas and celebrate their heritage. “Before the shoot, we gathered at a restaurant where we shared a Pique Macho, a traditional Cochabamba dish. I was the first one to get there and it was so nice to see some of them skate to the restaurant wearing their polleras. I got to get to know them more.” Luna learned about a documentary the skaters are working on as well as their plans to travel around Bolivia to teach other women and girls to skate. “Skating has changed their lives and they want to share that same passion with other women.”
To stay up to date with Luna's Cholitas Bravas series and her other work, you can follow her on Instagram. She will be offering prints from her series on her online shop in the future, so make sure to visit her website for any updates.