In Bolivia, the typical cholita is an indigenous Aymara or Quechua woman who peddles cheap goods in her traditional outfit—a flashy, ankle-length pollera, or ruffled skirt, fitted over a petticoat and finished with a knitted shawl and bowler hat. Once known as the "maids of the middle class," cholitas were routinely discriminated against and barred from entering restaurants or walking down the streets of posh neighborhoods.
Over the years, the success of grassroots movements has pushed indigenous leaders like President Evo Morales, a former Aymara activist, into power. That same cultural shift has turned cholitas into fashion icons and given a once downtrodden class of people a well-deserved social boost. Today, "cholita" is no longer synonymous with "cleaner" or "street peddler," as many of these women have joined the ranks of the middle and upper class as lawyers, professors, and ministers. One particularly pioneering band of cholitas who works as cooks at the base camps in the Andeans are now braving the mountains themselves. They have climbed to heights of more than 20,000 feet in their petticoats and polleras—and without formal training. Grit, after all, can't be taught.
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