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Friday, February 26, 2021

Chicano Tattoos Guide: Roots, Cultural References, and Artists

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This is Chicano Tattoos Guide looks at the historical roots, cultural references, and artists who have mastered the craft as well.

Payasas, lush roses, Virgin Mary’s, and intricate rosaries may be the first things to come to mind when one thinks of Chicano style tattoos. And this particular faction of tattooing has a depth like few others even if it’s true that these are some of the staples of the style. From the history of Los Angeles to ancient Aztec artefacts, and even Roman Catholic iconography, this guide to Chicano style tattoos looks not only at the historical roots, stylistic and cultural references, but the artists who have mastered the craft as well.

The Historical Roots of Chicano Tattooing

Smooth tones of grey highlight the illustrative approach to much of the Chicano style tattoo movement. It’s no wonder that stylistically the artworks blend those techniques with an incredibly rich cultural background considering its roots in pencil and ballpoint pen drawings. Artists such as Jesus Helguera, María Izquierdo, and David Alfaro Siqueiros wereChicano Tattoos Guide also at the forefront of the Mexican artistic output, while many people are familiar with the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Their work mainly focused on depictions of political strife, familial representations, and illustrations of daily life, along with other South American artists. Although these works may seem like a far cry from that of modern Chicano tattoo art, the figurative studies and illustrative approaches that blend realism with surrealism partly explain why much of contemporary Chicano art has the particular look it’s known for.

As with many art movements, aesthetics and techniques can be borrowed, but what is particular with this tattooing style is the culture and past behind it; Chicano style tattoo artist has a powerful philosophical and political heritage.

It’s no wonder that from the Mexican Revolution to the Pachuco culture of the early 1940s, and beyond, there was a huge influence from sociopolitical artworks and actions into modern Chicano tattooing, with a history that includes such radicals as Francisco Madero and Emiliano Zapata


To express their dissatisfaction with conventional American politics and policies, artistic stylistic expression was often used as an effective tool even earlier than the ’40s, when Mexican American youth and other minority cultures were using Zoot Suits. About civics and government, murals have also often been used in a dialectic conversation.

The Culture References in Chicano Tattoos Guide

The reason why much of Chicano style tattoos feels so personal is that it is. Due to rampant racism, classism, and discrimination, migrants who worked their way up from Mexico to parts of Texas and California were forced into the edges of society.  It also meant chicano drawings tattoosthat their culture was guarded and healthily preserved through the generations while this caused an intense amount of struggle for the migrant population.

Many Chicano youths fought against the status quo when migration peaked from the 1920s to the 1940s. In 1943, sparked by the death of a young Latino man in Los Angeles, this finally culminated in the Zoot Suit Riots. This may seem inconsequential to the background of Chicano style tattoos, but it was not the first time, nor the last, that expression of the culture would be suppressed.


It is not a secret that much of this conflict led the way to arrests that were usually a byproduct of xenophobic societal force upon migrant peoples. In undeniable ways, this political turn would go on to directly influence the Chicano aesthetic.

Life in Los Angeles evolved after the decline of the Pachuco subculture. For crisp khakis and bananas,  kids were trading in their Zoot Suits, and newly defining what being Chicano meant to their generation. Life behind bars directly influenced  Stylistic approaches emerged. From their own life experiences, using what few materials they had in prison, or barrios dotting the landscape of LA, artists drew inspiration directly.

From hand-drawn illustration, scenes from gang life, beautiful women, slick cars with filigree script, and Catholic crosses quickly went, such as the ballpoint pen decorated handkerchiefs and linens called Paños, to iconic Chicano style tattoos. To piece together a homemade tattoo machine, inmates would use pure ingenuity and, using only the black or chicano sleeve tattoosblue ink they had available to them, depict that which they knew best. This craft was used as a way to own the body, express the self, and show an affinity for the things that were held closest, like most people who are enamoured with the art of tattooing.

The intricacies of Chicano tattooing iconography are so wrapped up in the history of ethnic turmoil and progressive independence in such a way that it is so hard for outsiders to understand. However, making it more accessible and widely appreciated, it’s such an integral piece of West Coast culture that many of the supporting aspects of the aesthetic have been picked up by mainstream society.

Films like underground zine Teen Angels, and Mi Vida Loca, embody the spirit of a style that may have been built from a violent past but was a pure product of love and passion. The opening of shops like Good Time Charlie’s Tattooland, and Chicano style tattoo artists like Freddy Negrete, mainstays of the LA Chicano community from the ’70s to today, pushed the aesthetic to the forefront of the tattoo community.

Payasas, Cholas, lettering,  Lowriders, tears signifying lost ones: all of this and more was a lifestyle depicted in various art forms, including Chicano style tattoos. As it is directly inspired by their own history, their own story, these artworks resonate so deeply with people from the community because. The reach and recognition of this genre continue to grow is a testament to the power of these images.

The Iconography of Chicano Tattooing

Many of Chicano style tattoos concepts have substantial meaning behind them as with much of tattooing iconography. With facets of Chicano culture, many of these staple chicano tattoo artdesigns are interconnected. Tattoos that depict Lowriders, another mainstay stemming from the late 1940s and ’50s that pushed against Anglo pit bulls, aesthetics, dice, and decks of cards speak to the Los Angeles lifestyle. Another design that often was mixing an inmates appreciation for car culture with a longing for his lover on the outside are tattoo depicting cholos with their ride or die Chola babes.

Some of the most well-known images in this style is perhaps Payasas, which is Spanish for ‘clown’. , Inspired by the dramatic and comedic masks, these portraits often look like, allude to the balance of difficulty and happiness of life. Accompanying these pieces, the saying, “Smile Now, Cry Later” is also often found.

Virgin Mary’s, Sacred hearts, praying hands, Sugar Skulls,  and the like, are all images borrowed from the archives of Roman Catholic symbols and saints; the religion is widely regarded in North America with around 85% of the Mexican population practising it alone.

Tattoo Artists Within Chicano Tattooing

Many tattoo Chicano style tattoo artists are themselves a part of the Chicano community. There is an important aspect of retaining and respecting a heritage that makes appropriation difficult; to replicate imagery if the authentic understanding and personal connection aren’t there, it can be challenging. However, the Chicanos tattoos designs are so pervasive in tattoo history, that many Chicano style tattoo artist has mastered the aesthetic and help to preserve and spread this essential part of tattoo culture.

Freddy Negrete, Chuco Moreno, Tamara Santibañez, and  Chuey Quintanarare at the chicano style tattoo artistforefront of contemporary Chicano tattooing. As with any artistic movement, while lending to it a more personalized touch, each artist may work within the confines of stylistic iconography. Chicano tattoo style blends many aspects of tattooing culture in a beautiful array of methods and visuals, From black and grey realism to graphite-like illustrative, and even Chicano influenced American Traditional.

Other Chicano style tattoo artist with highly defined personal styles include Mister Cartoon, Freddy Negret, Panchos Placas, El Whyner, Jason Ochoa, Javier DeLuna, and Jose Araujo Martinez. It is evident that each has an appreciation for their own culture and experience even though many of these Chicano style tattoo artists do not strictly stick to one style or another. Within their highly esteemed work, it’s clearly reflected

Without all of the historical, political, and philosophical connotations, it’s hard to think of Chicano tattooing. Much of the socio-political artwork and history that has been made in the past continue to be shockingly relevant today. But that’s part of what makes the style so awe-inspiring. Through this art form, the culture has been perfectly expressed and continues to influence people the world over.

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