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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, 27, a member of ImillaSkate, founded in 2019 in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. “I wear them with pride.”

Tacuri sees in the polleras not only a cultural expression but also a form of empowerment. Bolivia has the highest proportion of Indigenous people in the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. More than half of Bolivia’s population is of Indigenous descent.

Tacuri and fellow members at ImillaSkate also among those with Indigenous ancestors. Some of their relatives still wear polleras.

“They are my mother’s and my aunts’ clothing, and I see them as strong women. Here in Bolivia, many women in polleras are the head of their families,” she said in a telephone interview. “For me, mujeres de polleras [pollera wearers] can do anything.”

Tacuri and her teammates spend long hours practicing moves at Ollantay Park, one of two places in the city with ramps and other structures designed for the sport.

The knee-length skirts billow and twirl with every turn, jump, and occasional tumble. Riding and performing complex tricks in the heavy layers, Tacuri admits, isn’t easy. But it’s unique.

ImillaSkate was founded by Daniela Santiváñez, 26, and two friends. She learned to skate as a child thanks to her brother, though it was “rare to see girls on skateboards.”

Skateboarding has been around in Bolivia for about two decades. But without women role models to follow in the sport in Cochabamba—and growing tired of listening to her mom’s complaints about her bruises from falls—Santiváñez stopped practicing when she was a teenager. She took up skateboarding again after college, where she got a degree in graphic design. By then, Dani, as her friends call her, discovered she was not the only woman with a passion for the sport.

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