Bolivia’s cholitas take an elegant step forward against discrimination

March 19, 2014

Cholitas of BoliviaBolivia’s indigenous cholitas are overcoming the worse excesses of discrimination

Indigenous people are victims of deliberate discrimination around the world. Some respite is earned as a modicum of economic wealth and cultural change occurs.

One such story from Bolivia is recounted in a BBC documentary [february 2014].

With their high bowler hats, puffed skirts and coquettish demeanour, they may look like they have stepped out of an early 20th century television costume drama, but cholas – or as they are affectionately known, cholitas – are very much a driving force in modern Bolivia.

Until recent decades, these indigenous Aymara and Quechua women – who can be easily identified by their distinctive, elegant outfits – could be refused entry to certain restaurants, taxis and even some public buses.
For generations, they were not permitted to walk freely in the capital La Paz’s central square, Plaza Murillo – home to the presidential palace – nor in wealthy suburbs like the city’s Zona Sur. Predominantly rural peasants who had migrated to the cities, they were seen as a lower strata who stayed in the home, or worked as servants or hawkers.

“They used to say, ‘chola, no no!” when we tried to go to those places,” says Carmen Mamani de Espejo, who sells flowers every Saturday at La Paz’s Rodriguez Market. “Now it’s much better for cholitas. We have more confidence now, we can walk where we like.”

After Evo

The culture change in Bolivia has accelerated since 2005 with the election of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous President. Leading the change are the traditionally dressed women now acquiring the cool status of the fashion designer’s models. Interestingly the culture change seems, according to the BBC, primarily through the women who are more regularly to be seen in the up market area of La Paz where they were once excluded, cruelly barred, on racial grounds.

now they are stepping out making a political as well as cultural statement. Interestingly, the style has not spread to their male consorts who cling to their Western style suits.

the cool dudes from the Congo in a recent Guinness advert. gentlemen-of-bacongo-5[1]

Remember the sapeurs?

A gender reversal, but other ways with echoes of the fashion statement made by the sapeurs.

More images

You can see more images of Cholitas in this Fox News item

Ugly Betty OK to run as conservative MP: Official

August 30, 2009

Ugly Betty

A senior Conservative politician has apologised for suggesting that only attractive female candidates should apply to become candidates for Parliament. An explanation is offered based on social identity theory

What can be made of this story [Aug 21st 2009]? It seems that the original opinion was offered by a constituency chairman, Mr Alan Scard, who was quoted as saying that women should only become MPs ‘if they were attractive’. Even in the early reports, it seemed he had been suggesting that beauty as well as brains would be taken into account in selecting new Members of Parliament.

The story made headlines, closely followed by political flak and an unconditional apology.

Gosport Conservatives Association chair Alan Scard, 63, said the comments were “tongue in cheek” and he thought that a [Channel 4 TV] interview was over. His association is tasked with finding a new parliamentary candidate for the town, after MP Sir Peter Viggers stood down during the expenses row [who famously claimed] £1,645 on expenses for a floating duck island. His gardening claims totaled £30,000 and [Viggers] retired at the direct request of party leader David Cameron.

When the curtain comes down: The compulsion to confide

An Aha! moment for me. Where had I come across this sort of behaviour before, and what might it mean? Answer. It occurs regularly when a performance ends and one of the actors steps out of role. For example, when an interview has ended, a reporter switches off the recorder, experienced enough to know that for some interviewees this is the time when a compulsion to confide kicks in.

It’s as if the actor (or politician) needs to deal with a residual concern that the other may have failed to distinguish the on-stage performance from the ‘real me’.

I’m arguing that such remarks can be interpreted as signals of a social identity struggling to express itself now that it has been released from the confines of being on the record, and subject to public scrutiny. This line of argument suggests that Mr Scard tried to present the public persona in the interview and permitted a glimpse of privately-held values once he believed it to be over. Once that ‘mistake’ was revealed, the highly public apology inevitably followed, as part of the necessary cover-up of the earlier expression of authentic but privately held beliefs.

There are newer theories, but I still find the ideas of Goffman on the presentation of self in public life to be instructive.