My Birthday Tattoo & Latino Identity Thoughts
I celebrated my birthday this past weekend by spending time with someone special, attending the BAM Takeover party with my BFF and getting my first and only tattoo.
You can see a full shot of the piece and read my reason for getting this particular tattoo after the jump.
Virgen de Guadalupe
The piece is over a foot long and took five hours to complete. The outline and color were done in one day. It was extremely painful to do it this way, but was my choice because I operate with pain a lot better when it happens all at once.
I should note that there are many people in my family who have tattoos. My father is covered in them and growing up I was both fascinated and repulsed by his body art. I witnessed the way having tattoos stigmatized him; he was a door-to-door bible book salesman and would have to wear long sleeve shirts even in the summer. On many occasions I saw police officers treat my father unjustly simply because in their minds he fit some sort of profile and his tattoos had something to do with that.
I wasn’t attracted to the negative connotations in mainstream society that come with tattoos, and up until very recently never had any desire to get one for myself.
I am not interested in publicly sharing my specific reason for deciding to get a tattoo (if you know me you are welcome to ask me in person) at this point in my life, but I would like to let you know why I went with this particular image…
My tattoo represents my interest in the fluid nature of Latino identity. The brown skinned Virgin is a unifying symbol for Mexico and was also a device used by the Catholic church to brainwash the Native Americans into assimilating. The Indios were drawn to the Virgin because she was so much like a Nahuatl god who they already worshiped. To this day, Latinos mix indigenous practices with Catholicism.
In a negative way, the Virgin symbolizes racism, exploitation and the eradication of culture through Europe occupying Mexico and then becoming part of it’s culture. On the other hand, the Virgin is also a symbol of strength, motherhood and peace. She was also used as a symbol during the Chicano civil rights movement and most recently during immigration rights marches. To me, she is a symbol of evolution and how culture is based on mass agreement. We decide to believe in something and it can shape a nation and history.
In my tattoo, the Virgin is holding a Black baby and a Latino baby. Minorities are so quick to attack one another when we should all be working together to heal this country and the world. That is what my tattoo is about – using our collective history as a strength but not letting lies and propaganda shape the way we see each other. It is also about not letting icons, symbols and rituals from our own culture oppress us by limiting the ways we can express ourselves. I am a fairly queer/non hetero person who is choosing to wear this icon, which gives the Virgin another dimension. She is a positive symbol for me, even as someone who was never meant to be associated with her.
Simply by existing and living my life as honestly as possible, I end up challenging some of the stereotypes that are put on Mexicans, Latinos, queers and women. I don’t walk around patting myself on the back for this, however I am aware of it. How can I not be, when the funny challenges of simultaneously living in so many different worlds pop up in my life so often?