These Bolivian skateboarders use Indigenous attire to battle discrimination

These women athletes are making a statement with their ancestral clothing.

ImillaSkate athletes, donning traditional Andean attire,  practice on a road on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The outfits, which include skirts known as polleras, hats and braided hair, honor Indigenous women from the highlands. It is part of an effort to instill pride in Bolivia's Indigenous roots, which run deep but also has been the object of discrimination. "We do it as a demonstration, as a cry for inclusion,” says ImillaSkate co-founder Daniela Santiváñez.

The colorful polleras are a symbol of identity in the Bolivian countryside. But these voluminous, traditional skirts worn by Indigenous Aymara and Quechua women have also been the object of discrimination, some seeing the appearance at odds with modern identity. Now a group of women athletes has brought them back to the city—donning them during skateboarding performances—to celebrate the cultural heritage of the cholitas.

"The polleras are very valuable to me,” says Deysi Tacuri López, pictured above, a member of ImillaSkate, founded in 2019. “I wear them with pride.”

Tacuri and her teammates spend long hours practicing skateboarding moves. The knee-length skirts billow and twirl with every turn, jump, and occasional tumble.

The polleras’ origins date back to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Orginally imposed by colonial rulers as a way to easily identify the native population and also have the attire conform to what was being worn in Spain by the poorer people, the skirts eventually were adapted as part of traditional Andean attire, most commonly associated with cholas—Indigenous women from the highlands.

Above, Aymara women Joselin Brenda Mamani tinta and her mother, Lucia Rosmeri tinta Quispe, wear traditional pollera outfits. María Belén Fajardo Fernández, in the white hate, is a physiotherapy student and the youngest in the group. She started practicing four years ago because she was amazed by the balance skills and the level of difficulty of the maneuvers.

Belu, an ImillaSkate member, tries on a traditional hat worn by Indigenous women. "Every ornament has its significance," says Huara Medina Montaño of the pollera outfits.

Team members wear the skirts for performances, not necessarily as their street clothing, says ImillaSkate co-founder Daniela Santiváñez. "We do it as a demonstration, as a cry for inclusion.”

The group’s name captures their aspirations: The word imilla means "young girl" in Aymara and Quechua, the two most widely spoken Native languages in Bolivia.

ImillaSkate athletes practice at one of their preferred spots for skateboarding, a downhill road on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The road is lined with native trees and is close to agricultural fields where many people from the Indigenous community work.

"Our goal is to promote and encourage the practice of skateboarding, to expand the sport and at the same time open new spaces to practice,” says Tacuri. “But we also want to send out a message: Let's not forget our roots."

Ellinor Buitrago Méndez, surrounded by flowers, floats in her pollera attire.

The pollera outfits also include hats and braids traditionally worn by Indigenous Aymara and Quechua women. For the skateboarders, it is a way to stay connected to their roots.

In the video above, Deysi Tacuri López (left) gets her hair braided by fellow ImillaSkate member Joselin Brenda Mamani tinta.

Luisa Zurita wears her grandmother's pollera while she gets her hair styled.

During a visit to a market in Cochabamba, ImillaSkate members teach others about the sport. La Cancha Market is one of the most popular in the region.

Skateboarding has been around for two decades in Bolivia, but there weren’t many role models for the founders of ImillaSkate until they created their own group.

Huara Medina Montaño teachers the mother of another skateboarder how to stay balanced. “Skateboarding influenced my life a lot," she says, "it filled me with courage when I needed it most. And it is something that I would like to be able to share with other people.”

"Our goal is to promote and encourage the practice of skateboarding, to expand the sport and at the same time open new spaces to practice,” says Tacuri. “But we also want to send out a message: Let's not forget our roots.”

Miriam Estefanny Morales looks out over Cochabamba while holding her skateboard. She says the view reminds her of how proud she is to be K’ochala.

Luisa Dörr is a Brazilian photographer whose work is mainly focused on the feminine human landscape. See more of her work on her website and on Instagram.

Paula Ramón is a Venezuelan writer based in Los Angeles. Follow her work @paulacramon.

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