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.

An Aymara indigenous woman practices a climb on the Huayna Potosi mountain, Bolivia, April 6, 2016. 
David Mercado

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.

Aymara indigenous women Lidia Huayllas, 48, (left) and Dora Magueno, 50, stand near Milluni lake, with the Huayna Potosi mountain in the background, Bolivia, April 6, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous women descend the mountain after practicing a climb on a glacier at Huayna Potosi, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous women Bertha Vedia (left), Dora Magueno (center), and Lidia Huayllas sit in a car in El Alto, Bolivia, April 21, 2016. 
David Mercado

An Aymara indigenous woman walks on the Huayna Potosi mountain, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

A girl stands in the Huayna Potosi mountain refuge, Bolivia, April 21, 2016
David Mercado

The Milluni cemetery sits near the Huayna Potos mountain, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous women descend a glacier at the Huayna Potosi mountain, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

The Aymara indigenous women mountaineers’ base camp is located in the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous women practice a climb on a glacier of the Huayna Potosi mountain in the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous woman Rufina Llusco sits in her tent before ascending the Illimani mountain in the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous women prepare for a climb at the Huayna Potosi mountain refuge, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Climbing gear belonging to the Aymara indigenous women mountaineers at the Illimani mountain located near La Paz, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

Aymara indigenous women fix their hair before ascending the Illimani mountain, Bolivia, April 21, 2016.
David Mercado

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