Chicano tattoos began with the Pachuco gang culture of the forties and fifties in the barrios of California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. These tattoos were originally done by hand using a sewing needle that was dipped in India ink. Today, Chicano tattooists generally use professional tattoo machines and often incorporate a variety of brightly colored inks into their artwork.
Chicano tattoos are extremely symbolic because they are deeply inspired by the roots of Mexican civilization and culture. Religious symbols often play a significant part in Chicano tattoos since Mexico is a predominantly catholic country.
Origin of the Term “Chicano”
The term “Chicano” is used in reference to U.S. citizens of Mexican decent and was widely used during the peak of the Chicano movement in the late sixties and early seventies. Those of Mexican decent use the term as a way to separate themselves from those who refer to themselves as Mexican-American. “Chicano” was originally used as a form of defiance, a way of rejecting the term Mexican-American and a way of embracing their core Nican Tlaca (indigenous) identity.
Chicano Tattoo Styles
Classic Chicano tattoos exclusively use black ink and fine lines in order to create classic images of Christ, the virgin Guadeloupe, and women. Bold shading is often used for “locas” (hometown or neighborhood) and other word tattoos. Today, Chicano tattoos are commonly applied using brightly colored inks and fine-line detailing, although many young people and gang members still wear the monochromatic style.
The most classic type of all Chicano tattoos is a small pachuco cross. The cross is surrounded by three small rays and is tattooed on the hand crease, between the forefinger and the thumb. This was once used to identify gang members and to assert the solidity of the group. To outsiders these crosses represented crime and violence, but to insiders they represented a loyalty to one’s community, family, women and God.
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