• Cholita women are reclaiming the pride that goes with their indigenous culture and traditional dress. (Viceland)
On Viceland’s ‘States of Undress’ this week, Hailey Gates explores how Indigenous women in Bolivia are taking on more prominent roles in society.
By
Michaela Morgan

14 Sep 2017 - 9:20 AM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2017 - 2:26 PM

In her brightly coloured skirt, bowler hat and shawl, Bertha Acarapi uses her platform as a news anchor to proudly represent Indigenous women in Bolivia. 

This week’s States of Undress, airing on SBS Viceland on Thursday evening, explores how Indigenous Aymaran culture is becoming more visible in a country that’s experiencing a cultural renaissance— where traditional fashion, architecture and art are becoming part of the mainstream. 

Acarapi tells host Hailey Gates that Bolivians celebrate the fact that she doesn’t look like a typical newsreader. She says she’s been received well by the public because “a lot of women identify with me”. 

“People get excited when they see me on the street. They’ve said to me, you really represent the people of El Alto!’ “The public’s very good to me,” she adds.

Cholitathe word that describes Acarapi’s traditional style—was, up until recently, a derogatory word used in reference to poor Indigenous women. Now, Cholita women are proudly reclaiming the heritage that was suppressed by Spanish colonisation. 

“We’ve been going through many changes during these past few years and that’s given Indigenous women the chance to play very important roles,” says Acarapi. 

“And now that I finally have this job, I am very proud.”

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"I sat in front of her and we just looked at each other and all the feelings came out. It was just the most intense, emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever been on.”

The changes that Acarapi is referring to have come largely as a result of President Evo Morales—the country’s first Indigenous leader, who was elected in 2006. 

Gates speaks to architect Freddy Mamani—who creates brightly-coloured, dream-like structures as a way of expressing his identity—and who notes how Bolivia has changed since Morales has been in power. 

“And now that I finally have this job, I am very proud.”

“Aymara people, we have always been rich, even before colonisation,” he says. 

“After the Spaniards’ invasion we were turned into submissive people by force. We didn’t have that freedom of expressing ourselves. We have always tried to be there, they shut our voices. They took away our right to express what we have.

“But ever since President Evo Morales took power, that changed quite a bit. The Aymara culture, society and all different ethnicities that we have in Bolivia were once again able to express themselves. 

States of Undress airs on SBS Viceland Thursday nights from 8:30pm. Each episode will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast. 

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