Why is it when you get your first tattoo someone is bound to tell you, “Watch out, they’re addictive!” No shit. Although I pride myself in the long gaps of time that pass between each tattoo, I none-the-less crave/think about the next. Tupac had “Thug Life” etched across his chiseled abdominals, for him Thug Life was an acronym, it stood in for “The Hate U Give Little Infants, Fuck Everybody.” Tupac described this as a representation of those who struggle against all odds to succeed in life, compared to those who are born into privilege. In other words, poverty begets poverty, and affluence begets affluence. But wait, let’s get back to tattoos. Chicano tattoos have continued to intrigue me from adolescence to adult hood, I’ve always admired that misty tear drop in permanent stasis below the eye, or the stunningly (poetic) rendition of one’s current/former love (remember tattoos are permanent, despite how much laser technology you access), but I’ve always love the hard intricate lines of the Old English lettered tattoo.
I spent 5 hours lying on my side while tatted by one of the best (Arnoldo Carrillo of Shades of Gray in Austin, TX), we fused the last names of my maternal grandparents (Silva and Davila) into a cross that angles down half of my upper torso. During a break from the long process (we listened to NPR over the tattoo needle buzz) I was complimented on my stoic manner while receiving said tattoo. I was “harder than some of the ex-cons that come in and get tatted,” he told me. This stroked my ego of course. I enjoyed hearing the praise, or at least what I interpreted as praise. “Fuck it,” I said to him. Let’s finish this. While getting ink done I am able to enter a meditative state. In fact, despite engaging in yoga or other meditation practices, I can still never reach the zen(ness) of being tattooed upon. One must become completely in tune with the body. Concentrating on breathing, making the skin fall asleep, while you remain awake in a pseudo catatonic state.
My fascination perhaps lies with the absorption of Pinto Arte and lowrider Arte I would look at in my dad’s OG Magazines. Prison shading is by far the most delicate patient artistic work that I have come across. Old English lettering has a rigidity that is broken by a more than subtle ornate quality. Defiant yet poetic. Now, Old English lettering has been utilized as part of Hip Hop and Rock imagery. It’s bold expressiveness connotates rebellion. And to a greater extent it represents prison life. Prison culture is fetishized as a marker of one’s ability to negotiate violence and survival, thus in a gender context, it represents an overly masculine representation.
In part because of my pseudo-androgyny feelings, I chose my Old English tattoo to symbolize the lasting impression my maternal families have given me and it’s hardness is reflective of my personality, rigid on the exterior and artful in the interior.