David Tomás Martinez remembers getting his first tattoo when he was 18 years old; it said San Diego in old English script. Over the years he kept adding more scripts, until the tattoos traveled from his arms to his chest to his neck to his back, and the tattoos began to form into a more coordinated narrative, one that told of his personal and cultural journey as a Latino writer.
“A lot of people I know have tattoos that represent latinidad,” he told NewsTaco, noting that his tattoos are now both script and pictorial. “ I want to show the many facets of my personality — that’s the thing with tattoos, it’s deftly representation of who you are and it says something about you. It’s personal like that.”
While for many Latinos of older generations, tattoos have traditionally been associated with criminals or undesirables, for younger generations that are increasingly mainstreaming, getting a tattoo has become something of a right of passage. Not only are tattoos no longer as taboo, but they have been embraced as a way to flaunt Latino culture, and highlight its salience.
For Luis Gómez, who has just begun work on his sleeve of Latino tattoos, they are a way to represent his cultural ties as an immigrant from Mexico. Having grown up a Catholic, he has the serenity prayer in Spanish on his chest, but has also begun a series of lotería cards on his arm, as well as sugars goals, flowers, and a woman with the serpent.
On a recent trip to visit his tattoo artist in Sherman Oaks, California, she and Gómez discussed the future of his tattoo sleeve. To him, making sure the tattoos are accurate, whether it’s a matter of coloring or symbolism, is of great importance. He told NewsTaco that the corazón lotería card represented wearing — quite literally — his heart on his sleeve, while the sol lotería card represented the fact that he grew up in a desert, where the sun was always present.
Martinez had a similar explanation for what he terms the “amalgamation” of his latinidad and culture as a writer via his tattoos. These include scripts, poems, saints, lotería and even the words “home boy.” In his opinion, Latinos with Latino–themed tattoos are engaging in something of a “schizophrenia” of trying to maintain their culture, even as they assimilate in the U.S., say by getting a tattoo.
“We understand that we are Americans and we are in this country, but we have a very different relationship to this country than other minorities, because we are very close to the motherland,” he told us. Tattoos are something of a remedy for this condition, he said, in the sense that they don’t make you have to choose being Latino or American, but allow you to be both at once.