Bolivian ‘Chola’ drag queens participated in a fashion show in La Paz to challenge traditional notions of beauty, Bolivian identity and gender.
Chola is the word used to describe mestiza Bolivia women, identifiable by their traditional dresses that is an expression of syncretism between Spanish and Indigenous cultures. They normally dress with “polleras,” or flamboyant skirts, a decorative shawl and a rounded hat.
According to Andres Mallo, known as Alicia Galan when in drag, the Chola drag queen movement challenges Western aesthetics as well as “performative and autonomous bodies.” Mallo explained that the LGBTQ community “continues to create an inclusive gender identity discourse with a political, artistic and cultural outlook to reclaim their rights.”
On Saturday six young men dressed as Chola women participated in the “Cholita transformista 2018” beauty contest to take over the identity of the “pollera woman who has a great presence in Bolivian society.”
“It has always been my dream to represent the women in polleras because my mother uses this dress, as a pollera woman. I am proud to wear the pollera ” Alison Mendoza, the contest’s winner, told AFP.
Madison Rodriguez, one of the participants, highlighted president Evo Morales’ role in helping the traditional dress regain its important and social standing. Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous leader and according to Rodriguez, Morales has “made it more honorable to use the pollera.”
Morales has also promoted gender equality. In 2016 he enacted a law making it legal for trans people to change their identity in the public system.
However, Alicia Galan contends there is still much to do. According to Bolivia’s Constitutional Court the 2016 law does not allow trans people to marry freely.
Glenda Yanez, a fashion designer and member of the jury said “men who dress as women in polleras have existed, exist and will continue to exist. It is also a way to make our diversity visible.”