Hispanic and Latino tattoos are an interesting combination of religious symbolism and gang cultures. Unfortunately for a lot of Hispanic culture, the influence of Latino and Hispanic gangs in America has eclipsed much of the less controversial tattoo designs. The Hispanic presence in America has always been substantial and is continuing to grow. Because Latinos and Latinas come from a variety of countries, their tattoos often reflect their continued pride in their homeland.
The term “Hispanic” refers to the Iberian Peninsula, known in ancient times as Hispania, and today usually refers to people and culture related to Spain, and usually colonized by Spain. Countries that are considered Hispanic are Mexico, parts of the Greater Antilles, Central America, and south America. People with an ancestral connection to these regions also consider themselves Hispanic, particularly if they still speak Spanish or practice some of the customs of the area.
Hispanic tattoos to honor the country of their origins might feature Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and many more. These tattoos might be of the national flag, maps of the country, national birds, national flowers, traditional clothing, traditional music, geographical feature, or any other symbol representative of the area. Sometimes these tattoos feature many different aspects of their culture combined. Furthermore, a child of two Hispanic parents from different countries, say Mexico and Cuba, might get a tattoo that represents both of these countries to symbolize that they are half of each and love both equally.
Religion is very important in Hispanic culture and the vast majority of Hispanic countries are Catholic. As such, many Hispanic tattoos are religious in nature, featuring Catholic figures or symbols. The Virgin Mary, or more specifically the Virgin of Guadalupe, is perhaps the most popular image. She is considered the Mexican Virgin Mary by some, she was the symbol for Mexican independence and unity. According to legend, she appeared to a man and told him to build a church and collect roses, which magically appeared although it was winter. The roses stained his clothing with an image of her likeness and the image has been revered ever since. Other popular Latino tattoos include crosses, the Sacred Heart, Jesus, angels, and rosary beads.
Latino gangs have an obvious presence in American culture and, by extension, tattoo culture. Symbols can either be gang exclusive, representing membership in a specific gang, or general to most gangs and prison cultures. Tattoos have a long history with criminals and criminal activities and were once used to denote a criminal in case of escape. Today, prison tattoos are embraced by the prisoners and an understanding of prison and gang symbols can be used to decipher the meaning of seemingly obscure tattoos.
By deciphering a gang member's tattoos, you can learn about his entire life and his personal philosophy. MS13 and the Mexican Mafia are two of the most active and prolific hispanic gangs. Tattoos of MS, 13, and “Mi Vida Loca” or “My Crazy Life” are all associated with these gangs. Similarly, three dots tattooed on the hand or a pachuco cross, usually placed in the webbing between the thumb and index finger, also represent connections to Hispanic gangs. Fortunately, tattoos and hispanic tattoos in particular are distancing themselves from this sordid past.
Another common Hispanic tattoo motif, at least among immigrated Hispanics, is memorials honoring family members lost or left behind in their home country. Oftentimes, people must leave loved ones, like wives, mothers, fathers, siblings, or children behind in order to find work in another country. Hispanic tattoos frequently feature their images, names, or things associated with them, like a favorite saying, toy, or symbol. Family is incredibly important in Hispanic culture and being separated from loved ones is perhaps the most difficult on someone of Hispanic heritage, who is used to spending all of their time with those close to them. Sayings and mottos are usually tattooed in Spanish, which is the mother tongue and innate part of Hispanic culture.