Our last day of #VisibleWikiWomen 2019: celebrating Petronila Infantes!

7 May 2019

Today is the last day of our campaign #VisibleWikiWomen. Thanks to our super amigxs and friends, we are celebrating another successful campaign. In the past 2 months, more than 3000 images have been shared under the #VisibleWikiWomen category on Wikimedia Commons and almost 900 images have been added to Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects!

To close out the campaign on an equally high note, we share with you the story of Petronila Infantes, a mestiza woman from Bolivia, and how her photo now illustrates her biography on Wikipedia.

Petronila Infantes – a Bolivian chola*, union leader, and chef – is among the many incredible women whose Wikipedia biographies are now illustrated through our 2019 campaign. Inspired by the story of Petronila and many other women from the Global South, we dedicated 10 days to celebrate the colors of #VisibleWikiWomen by creating the mini-campaign #WomenofColors. Our goal was to increase the number of images, and hopefully biographies, of influential black, brown, indigenous and trans women on Wikipedia.

Petronila Infantes: making the struggles of the cholas in La Paz visible

In the early 1930s, a group of upper-class women filed a complaint against the cholas at the Municipality of La Paz in Bolivia. According to the complaint, their nylon stockings were being torn, and their expensive dresses stained, by the cholas’ baskets. These women were travelling with the cholas in the narrow and crowded wagons of the tram, the only means of mass transportation in the city back at the time. As a result, in July 1935, the Municipality imposed an ordinance that prohibited anyone getting on the tram cars “with any bulky luggage that may come in contact with other passengers, as well as people with visible signs of lack of hygiene, or whose clothes may contaminate the others passengers or may have bad smell […] ”.

Tram wagon in La Paz city, circa 1920

Tram wagon in La Paz city (circa 1920), Unknown author, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Outraged and tired of being discriminated against, this group of culinary workers – regular users of the tram to transport the food from the markets – organized themselves under the Culinary Workers Union (SC by its spanish acronym). This marked the beginning of a long struggle by the union workers to defend their labor rights and fight against the racism and discrimination they suffered as chola women.

Daughter of a highly experienced cook, Petronila began to practice the trade at a very young age after her father passed away. With her two children, and her mother, she later moved to La Paz. Both mother and daughter became widely reputed cooks of talent and integrity, in high demand by the elite families of La Paz.

Petronila Infantes was only 24 years old when she helped found the SC in August 1935. Throughout the several years of union mobilizations, and with significant struggle, Petronila and the other fierce cholas of her time achieved important advances in the employment situation of female culinary workers in Bolivia. Their organizing led to the recognition of culinary work as a profession, the eight-hour working day, and the opening of free care centers for mothers to be able to leave their children while working. Petronila’s extraordinary organizational skills were also important in the restructuring of the Women Workers Federation in 1940.

In the following years, Petronila left the culinary profession, and completely devoted herself to union work. She died in 1991, and to this date she is still remembered as a profoundly important woman leader, organizing around radical ideas of freedom and liberation. She was an inspiration for many women then, and continues to be for the women who keep her subversive spirit alive.

Culinarias Union of La Paz, Bolivia (1937)

Culinarias Union of La Paz, Bolivia (1937), Unknown author, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Discovering a photo of Petronila in the public domain

Bolivian activist Yola Mamani mentions Petronila in this 2019 video from her YouTube channel, introducing her to a global audience that may never have heard of this amazing unionist. Some might have searched the web after watching the video, wanting to find out more about Petronila. Her biography on Wikipedia is probably the first source they found.

The biography of Petronila Infantes in the Spanish Wikipedia was created in 2018 by our friend and experienced Wikipedian, the Bolivian editor Caleidoscopic. It is a very new article in the history of the free encyclopedia, whose community is making an effort to reduce the many biases inherent in the creation of its content, including those of gender, race, sexuality, language, and geography. But it was not until March 2019 that the article had an image to illustrate it.

Back in 2018, Caleidoscopic found a digitized photo of Petronila that appeared on different websites. She had not added it to the article because she thought that this could infringe the copyright policy of Wikimedia Commons (the multi-media project that supports Wikipedia), where only photos with free and open licenses or in the public domain, are accepted.

A year later, during the #VisibleWikiWomen 2019 campaign, we discovered that the only image of Petronila available on the Internet was in fact in the public domain. It is a photograph from 1937 published in the Bolivian press. We know that it is in the public domain because the photograph was first published more than 50 years ago in Bolivia, by an anonymous author. This complies with the Bolivian copyright legislation and with the public domain criteria of Wikimedia Commons.

We are so delighted that with this collective effort, the photos of Petronila and the SC have been added to Wikipedia! They illustrate not only Petronila’s biography, but also the articles about the Bolivian cholas and the Women Workers Federation.

Sometimes, discovering a photo in the public domain is not that easy. But we encourage everyone to learn more about free images and public domain, to find out where is this material available, and how to upload these images to Wikimedia Commons. We also encourage cultural institutions and media archives to digitize and share on the Internet images of relevant historical women, especially black, indigenous, and other marginalized communities, including from all regions of the Global South.

Petronila Infantes

Petronila Infantes, Unknown author, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

We are deeply thankful to all our super amigxs and friends for their deep and enduring support to the #VisibleWikiWomen campaign. We hope to join you all next year to continue making visible the faces and stories of women, especially those who have been the most invisible and unacknowledged throughout history. Women like Petronila.

(*) In Bolivia, the term Chola refers to mestizo and indigenous women who wear the pollera, a traditional skirt.


This post was originally written in Spanish, you can have a look at the original version here.


Related Posts

Author Profile