Mexican tattoos are a huge part of the Mexican culture. They’re often fierce and bold, with imagery featuring skulls and death a popular part of the designs. The Aztec roots are often seen in these tatts, and they are evening gaining in popularity among a wider audience across the whole world.
Symbolism and Culture
Mexican tattoo designs are brash and bold. They pull predominantly on three points of inspiration, Aztec history, religion and the underworld. Death, skulls, smoke and ghouls play a big part in the sub culture of Mexican tattooing.
Mexican and Aztec tattoos are known for their grey and black shading. They incorporate a lot of smoke and snakes. Headdresses feature heavily in their design and iconic skull designs with ornate feather headdresses are common. As with many types of tattoo such as swallows, spider’s webs and scales of justice, Mexican tattoos have been adopted by prisoners and gang members as status tattoos.
They are a means of identifying your status and crime to other prisoners. But as with a lot of tattoo designs, they have hidden meaning and symbolism. A prisoner should do his research first to ensure that he gets the right one, otherwise at a later date; he might have to pay for his choice. A man with a skull for a head sitting in a rocking chair symbolises that the wearer is a murderer, as does a double headed snake. In prison, the wearer might have to prove that statement to be true and there would always be plenty of contenders up for the challenge.
Sugar skull tattoos have been hugely popular for decades. A beautiful woman wearing Day of the Dead make up is the most common choice of sugar skull tattoo but there are thousands of designs in the genre. Another popular one is sugar skull bikers. These are often worn by ‘brothers’ when a biker has died. The tattoo will often depict a biker on his personal ride with a sugar skull for a head and the deceased’s details in a scroll below.
Sugar Skulls and their Origin
Sugar skulls relate to one of South America’s largest economic resources, the sugar plantation. Natives were forced into slavery and it was them, not the Mexicans, who first made sugar skulls. They were used in voodoo and black magic as a religious substitute for real skulls and so the cultural tattoos depicting sugar skulls found its way across the border and into the Mexican culture. Mexico has taken them over and claimed them as her own for hundreds of years. Sugar skulls are still used in Mexico today to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, a month-long celebration symbolising the cycle of life and death.
Other Varieties of Mexican Tattoo
Mexican tattoos are also heavily influenced by religion. They are a predominantly catholic country and the Virgin Mary, rosary beads and crossed hands are often depicted in Mexican tattoo art.
Mexico is saturated with gang warfare, often between Latino and Californian-American factions. Area codes are a big thing in Mexican tattoo culture. Where you come from and who you are is important, often one can’t be separated from the other and your area code is worn as a mark of pride and as a territorial patch.
‘Tres Puntos’, means ‘My Crazy Life,’ also used in Spanish Tattoos and translated as ‘Mi Vida Loca.’ This phrase features in a lot of Mexican tattoos and is linked in prison and gang culture to the older, ‘Smile now, cry later’ tattoos. Mexican tattoos often use dots to indicate meaning. Dot tattoos are used in prison codes. The number of dots you have has a different meaning and is a code to other prisoners or gang members.
Interestingly, the gecko makes a significant appearance in Mexican tattoos. Mexico has a dessert terrain, while Polynesia is oceanic and yet, the two cultures both feature geckos significantly in their tattoo art.
Orange and red are predominant colours used in Mexican tattoos and can make for some striking and beautiful artwork. Mexican tattoos also make great use of the sun in their designs in deference of the sun God, Huitzilopochtili. The sun was the guardian of the heavens and the sun symbolises belief in the afterlife in Mexican tattoos. Mexican pride tattoos are also popular, usually depicting the Mexican flag as Natives fight to keep their land and their Mexican Independence.
A lot of the Mythology surrounding Mexican tattoos can be dark. Do your research and ensure that you are happy with your tattoo before you commit.