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Esperanza Cancina, 48, who sells used clothing for a living, has installed her large family and her ample self, in all her petticoats and skirts, in the choice ringside spot behind the announcer's chair, at a safe angle from the popcorn and chicken bones and empty plastic bottles the audience likes to pelt the fs with. Ringside seats cost about $1.50 each, which is hardly cheap, but Señora Cancina comes faithfully to the show every other Sunday. "It's a distraction," she explains. "The cholitas fight here, and we laugh and forget our troubles for three or four hours. At home, we're sad."

Around us, the youngest members of the audience, including her fchildren, are skittering around the edges of the ring in an adrenaline frenzy, trying out lucha leaps and swarming after a wrestler who has just been defeated, trying to hug him, touch his costume. The music is booming, and it's hard to conduct a conversation, but Señora Cancina is amiable and cooperative. She had 12 children, she says, but after a pause adds that six died. How? Her face takes on a distressing blankness. "Scarlet fever, diarrhea, those things ... " she murmurs, and has to repeat the answer over the noise. Would she have wanted to be a luchadora too? Definitely, she says. "Our husbands make fools of us, but if we were wrestlers we could express our fury."

Over on the long side of the bleachers, in the prime chicken-bone-throwing area, Rubén Copa, a shoemaker from La Paz with an easy, friendly smile, is waiting impatiently for the afternoon's final match—one in which the "Mummy Ramses II" will take on cholitas yet to be announced. "Bolivian wrestlers aren't half bad, you know," he says with a touch of pride. Not even the women? He huffs and waves his hands in protest. "There's none of that anymore! Every kind of work is for everyone now." I want to know if it's true that men come to the lucha libre just to see the cholitas' (very modest) underpants. For a moment he looks offended, but then he smiles again. "Not at all!" he says. "I come to see them wrestle! You'll see for yourself how good they are."

And indeed a few minutes later the Mummy Ramses II is staggering around invincibly in a red-stained jumpsuit and a fright wig, dragging one cholita behind him while another one looks for something to set him on fire with, and the kids are screaming in delicious terror, and Señora Cancina is yelling things at the Mummy that cannot be printed in this magazine, grinning broadly as she does so. The Mummy is slamming his victim against the wall, and it looks tough for the cholitas, as the announcer warns us, in this definitivo y final combate—it looks very, very tough. But something tells me that you can't keep a cholita down.

Here comes Martha, flying through the air!

Alma Guillermoprieto wrote about Bolivia in the July issue. Ivan Kashinsky lives in Quito, Ecuador. This is his first assignment for National Geographic.
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