Contrary to common belief, Mexican tattoos began long before the stereotypical ideas about them the idea that Mexicans have only been tattooing for a hundred years or so is a misconception. Tattoos in the Mexican culture date back to the early 1300s and perhaps before that. Both the Aztecs and the Mexican, along with other Mexican native tribes used tattoos as ornamental and as a way to intimidate foes during battle.
Tattooing has come a long way from being a part of religious rituals, to become a fashion trend and a means of self expression. Basically, tattooing is an ancient body art that was widely practiced for decorating the body and as a part of religious rites. In some civilizations, such as in the ancient Aztec civilization, tattoos were a part of religious rituals. It was also a mark of an individual’s social status and a means to distinguish one tribe from another. Another important purpose of tattooing was to show a soldier’s rank. The influence of such ancient civilizations is still evident in Mexican tattoo art. Mexican tattoos are mainly based on the themes of ancient Aztec, Mayan and Inca art. Influence of all these cultures have made Mexican tattoo designs quite unique and striking.
With a population of over 100 million and several million ethnic Mexicans living in the US, Mexican themed tattoos are big business. However, all too often people get caught up in the hype of having a cool looking tattoo done without understand in the meaning behind it. This is a shame, especially if you’re getting your tattoo done as a symbol of your Mexican pride. A country with a rich and diverse history such as Mexico has a lot to be proud about and if you are looking for inspiration for your Mexican tattoo design then there is a wealth of material to draw on. Below we’ve mentioned just a few of the most popular Mexican symbol tattoos that are popular with Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
Mexican Eagle Tattoo:
The Mexican eagle is familiar to anyone who has seen the Mexican flag. What makes this eagle special however is the fact that it has a snake in its mouth and is perched on a cactus plant. Apart from looking visually appealing, a tattoo featuring the Mexican eagle will serve as a symbol not only of national pride but also tell a story of the history of Mexico’s Aztec ancestors.
Mexican Religious Symbol Tattoos:
Mexicans are deeply religious people who seem to have particular affinity to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A particularly popular Mexican tattoo that serves as a strong symbol of faith for people is known as the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This tattoo includes a picture of the virgin Mary looking down with a somber look on her face while her hands are clasped together in prayer. In this image she is standing on a crescent moon which is in turn supported by an angel. Surrounding the body of the virgin Mary are rays of light, similar to a halo except the light is emanating from her entire body rather than simply her head.
The history behind this particular image is specific to Mexico and Mexican history which is why in addition to serving as a religious symbol tattoo it is also an identifier as an especially Mexican tattoo. The story goes back several centuries to when the virgin Mary revealed herself to a local man in a vision telling him to build a church. The man was also instructed to go pick up some roses that had miraculously grown on a frost covered hillside. The man used his poncho to collect the roses and proceeded to go to the local priest to convince him that his vision was real. Upon emptying the contents of his poncho it was realized that the real miracle was not only in the growing of roses during winter but that they had left an image; the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, on the Man’s poncho.
Two Types Mexican Tattoos:
Mexican tattoos can be divided into two main categories: Mexican religious tattoos and non religious tattoos.
Mexican Religious Tattoos:
Tattoos have been a part of traditional Mexican culture for thousands of years. Almost all Mesoamerican pre-Columbian civilizations were familiar with tattoos and were very fond of them. Nowadays, many Mexicans have tattoos whose themes are taken from Mayan, Inca or Aztec religious art. The Aztec empire was the biggest, most advances and the last pre-Columbian civilization. This is why tattoos with the Aztec’s themes are most frequent in present Mexico and among Mexicans living in the United States and other countries.
There are many types of the Aztec tattoos such as the social tattoos which are used to mark a person’s social status or the “ID” tattoos which are used to differentiate between the different tribes. Most important and most elaborated Aztec tattoos were the religious tattoos that were done during religious rituals and in honor of one of the many Aztec Gods.
Nowadays most famous Aztec religious tattoos are the tattoos of Aztec sun god, god of warriors, and of course the most powerful Aztec god, god of water, fertility and creativity. Other popular Aztec tattoos are the eagle, sun and moon, stars, cross tattoos and Aztec’s calendar.
A very frequent religious tattoo in Mexico is the regular design of the Virgin of the Guadalupe. Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico City in the 16th century and since then became one of the most important icons in Mexico. Its image was the very first flag of Mexico and it represents Mexican commitment to the religion, love and freedom.
Famous Mexican Skull tattoos are inspired by the Mexican religious holiday in which Mexicans pray and remember their family members and friends that have passed away. This day is called “the Day of the Dead” and its symbol is the human skull thus the skull tattoos.
Mexican Nonreligious Tattoos:
Nonreligious Mexican tattoos can be broken into few categories: Mexican Pride tattoos, Mexican prison tattoos and political tattoos.
Mexican Pride Tattoos:
Great example of Mexican pride tattoos are the Mexican flag tattoos. Mexicans love and adore their flag. They have a national holiday dedicated to their flag as well as the civil oath and salute to the flag.
However the most impressive and explicit example of the Mexicans’ devotion to their flag are the monumental Mexican Flags that are placed across the country. The biggest monumental flag has a pole of 270 feet, and measures 120 by 70 feet and weights almost 500 pounds!
Now you can better understand why Mexicans that live in the United States often get a Mexican flag tattoo. However, this is not the only Mexican pride tattoo. There are many others and they include all of the above.
Mexican Prison Tattoos:
Very notorious Mexican tattoos are the Mexican prison tattoos. These tattoos became very popular in the 1950 when Mexican Mafia, the first Mexican prison gang, was founded.
If you know how to read prison tattoos you can find out a lot about a person. For example there is a big difference if a person has a tattoo of the number 13 or the number 14 because number 13 stands for the Mexican Mafia and the number 14 stands for Nuestra Familia. Of course these two gangs are not just rivals but the worst enemies as well.
Other things that you can find out about a prisoner, a side from the membership to a certain prison gang, is what kind of the weapon he likes to use, how many people he have killed, in how many prisons he have been as well as his rank in the gang and name of a loved one.
In conclusion, Mexican tattoos can tell a life story, they can be expression of pride, love and hope; or sadness and loss of a loved one. They can also be political statements or represent religious beliefs.