Imilla Skate, the board is female empowerment and ‘Chola’ identity
The Bolivian pioneer collective able to combine skateboarding and cultural revalorization, tricks and social revolution
Skateboarding can be a tool for emancipation, cultural identification, historical reenactment and women’s empowerment. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, there is a group of girls who are achieving all these goals through their boards. They are the ImillaSkate collective; they are young women capable of blending contemporary vibes, Andean roots, revolutionism and social progress. They have long, black braids and wear ‘polleras’, the typical skirts that have colored so many Bolivians, especially from rural areas, over the past centuries. They profess clear and universal messages that send to us from the other side of the globe.
“Skateboarding is for everyone, it doesn’t matter your social status, your country, the color of your skin or your gender. The important thing is to feel part of a big family, it is to speak a universal language. Skating is an art that allows us to spread essential messages. Andean culture and social inclusion are part of the themes we touch with our collective efforts. Our identity, the ‘Chola’ identity, the identity of every Bolivian woman, is at the heart of everything. We fight for women’s empowerment, in order to break down the machismo stigma. This stigma is present not only in Bolivia, but throughout South America. On our continent abuse and femicide are the order of the day, for women there is no social equity and no real freedom. We recall the aesthetics of the ‘mujeres de polleras’ because they were and are prohibited from studying at university and working in evolved environments. These women are systematically sidelined. Today more and more girls are abandoning their roots to adapt to the contemporary world because they cannot show themselves for who they are. We do the opposite and want to show that only individual qualities and abilities count, everything else is just taboos that need to be broken…”
A powerful need shines through the words of these young skaters: the need to change the future using the past as a starting point. Traditions and reforms in their daily lives follow the same rhythm of tricks and runs, becoming one folkloric form of activism. Bolivia is the unexpected epicenter for the multifaceted activities of this collective: activities that are inspiring many Bolivian girls, but also communities spread across the continent. Because the Imilla Skate project manages to be simultaneously local and international, to unite the territorial dimension with the transversal example.
“Skate culture arrived in Bolivia in the early 1990s as an underground sport related to the ‘calle.’ For a long time women did not use boards. Then some pioneers popped up and, thanks to their example, we decided to create our collective. We want to be a role model for the ‘ninas’ of our country and show them that they can enjoy this urban art form. The reaction from our city has been very positive, we are succeeding in changing people’s mentality and spreading the true values of skateboarding. Skateboarding teaches that no matter how many times you fall, you can always get back up, and that will and perseverance can allow you to break down any physical and mental barrier. These are metaphors we can apply to our own lives and social struggles. So many women feel freer because of Imilla, they are more confident, in the last few years we have improved our organization and managed to get 5 girls into international events. Everything has changed since skateboarding became an Olympic sport, but in general more and more girls are getting into this sport. It’s a domino effect. We are trying to create a Latin American network of female skate communities: Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil are some of these countries. We have not yet been able to travel to these places, because we all work or study; maybe one day we will be able to do so…. For now it is essential to focus our efforts here, in Bolivia. We want to be a support not only for people who want to skate, but for whole the community. We are developing projects like a cultural center, we are involving urban artists and musicians, we are helping children who had problems during their childhoods. Skateboarding is an art, and this art must help others.“
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