"One should feel the fight as a part of himself or herself," said Juanita, who sells religious items in her little shop when she's not fighting. "You have to like it a lot to have the courage to get up on the ring to train because it's very hard to train. You have to like it way too much to be able to put up with all the hitting and bear all the knocks."

Champions of change
   From the legendary heroics of Bartolina Sisa — a lieutenant in her husband Tupac Katari's Indigenous uprising against Spanish rulers of 18th century Bolivia — to the founders of the Women Workers Federation, or Federación Obrera Femenina, a female workers union in the early 20th century, Indigenous women have played a large role in shaping Bolivian society. But their influential role isn't without its problems.
   According to a 2007 global report on human rights by the U.S. State Department, 70 percent of Bolivian women have suffered some kind of abuse from the males in their lives. That number, the report says, may be even higher as many instances go unreported.
   Juanita believes the answer is better education for women in rural areas, which will allow them to realize their full potential in society. "There are still people who live in the old-fashioned conservative ways, and so, there are still women who suffer from both physical and psychological abuse and violence," she said. "They have fear in them. And they haven't studied so they don't know much about our world nowadays, or about how our reality has changed."
   Research into how this high rate of abuse translates in wrestling matches, where cholita women may wrestle masked men or men dressed in drag in addition to other cholita women, is in its infancy. Nell Haynes is studying how Indigenous women have been stereotyped and marginalized through performed violence. As part of her doctoral research at American University, she spent two months in Bolivia interviewing the luchadoras and plans to return for a full year.
   "They like what they are doing, but it's a job, and part of that job is telling people how wonderful it is," Haynes said. "To just say, 'Yes, it's empowering,' and move on is kind of obscuring the history of racism and classism, which I think has to be affecting how people are understanding the wrestling."
Nevertheless, the cholitas say wrestling gives them confidence.
   "I want to entertain, and I want my audience to be happy after they see me fighting," said Dina, who didn't give her real name. "Some people remember my face from seeing me fight in the ring, and when they see me somewhere else, they ask me, 'Hey! How's Dina?' which is cool."
   Still, the State Department report continues by asserting women do not have an equal status to men because "traditional prejudices and social conditions remained obstacles for advancement."
In the wrestling world, for example, women fighters are managed almost entirely by men who sign them up, schedule their matches and even pick their names. And the luchadoras do not know what their male counterparts make in each match because each fighter is taken aside individually and given his or her payment based on his or her performance in the ring, leaving chances for a gender-based shortchange and other financial deception wide open.
   Yet, the Cholitas see things beyond the money and the fame, which they certainly enjoy. They believe they are part of a social movement that is promoting and strengthening women, especially Indigenous women.
   "Women are fighters now. They work in offices, for instance, they have jobs as architects, lawyers, etc.," Juanita said. "The only thing that makes us different from women in other countries is the way we dress. We're smart, and we're beautiful. ...
   "There's still illiteracy in rural areas, and there are still people who don't know how to dress well or how to interact with people. But I think that's going to change, it's about to change. We are actually an example of that change. We are role-models: We've made it, we've changed."