January 23, 2004

My Tattoo

My struggle and rationale behind becoming a member of a sub-culture

By Maria de Lourdes Pelaez

It took years of thought; weighing out the different options, the pros and cons. Could I really live with this for the rest of my life? Was I absolutely certain I wouldn’t change my mind within the next couple of days, weeks, months, years? Was I sure I wanted it on that particular spot? Would I and should I really care if people saw it or not, and would their opinions of it matter if they did catch a glimpse of it? After deciding that I really wanted it and having figured out that my lower back was the best spot, because I could show it and hide it at will, came the next grueling task – figuring out what tattoo design I wanted to put there.

At first I decided on an elaborately designed cross, but then I considered the repercussions of making such an overt and heavily loaded statement about my cultural religion – not to mention that of millions throughout the world. Did I really want to face the wrath of my fanatically Catholic abuelita Mexicana who would ask forgiveness from all the saints for knowing her eldest granddaughter had joined the abysmal ranks of merchant seamen and criminals? Was I really prepared to hear her beg Dios Padre, Dios Hijo y El Espíritu Santo not to damn her lost nieta to eternal suffering in the depths of hell with the likes of Judas, for sacrilegiously marking the most sacred symbol of Christianity above her god-given butt crack until the end of time? My short-lived rebellious stage died back in 1994, and I proclaim myself a liberal but must confess it only extends so far. I tossed out the cross idea and settled on a star design.

The pentagram, an encircled five-pointed star, an internationally recognized symbol of supernatural or spiritual protection, but equally seen as a symbol of evil even when not reversed. Perhaps not the best star to place on my pale, virginal behind for the same reasons the cross didn’t work in the first place. I again began envisioning mi abuelita clutching her rosary, kneeling before her portrait of El Sagrado Corazón praying for la marca del Diablo to vanish from her nieta cabesona’s ass! With that in mind, I dedicated the past five years to designing the most original and personal star design imaginable.

I suppose I fell into the eight-pointed star because part of me continued to desire the cross, but the additional points transformed the cross into an elaborate star. Eight-pointed stars, known as octagrams, do carry profound spiritual meanings but are not identified as such or misinterpreted by the general populace, so I figured I’d be safe (so far I haven’t been assaulted by any brujas locas – knock on wood). Recently, I decided to use one of my many designs after I had publicly proclaimed to all of my family and friends that I’d get my first tattoo before I reached my thirtieth birthday (I have two years to go). Knowing that thirty is knocking at my door and not one to let an opportunity pass, my good friend Maria suggested we spend a Saturday night in Hollywood getting “inked,” and after drowning our pain with a few chelas at one of the cool bars on the Sunset Strip.

Getting inked in Hollywood really appealed to me, and without a second thought Maria and I embarked on our mission. We planned to look at artist portfolios and get a few quotes from studios on The Strip. Shock set in when we realized that not many tattoo shops exist on The Strip. The few that we did find were run by seriously bigheaded artists (wanted me to make an appointment even if they didn’t have any clients), kitschy, overrated and overpriced (they quoted $200 and up for a plain, black design, three inches in diameter). Granted, my star is very geometric with a perfect circle in the center and various asymmetric lines forming the points and a square around the circle, but not something an experienced artist couldn’t do in less than an hour for menos dinero. Yes, I know some of you think price is no object when it comes to getting a good tattoo, but there are limits and I don’t appreciate it when some of the artists me quieren ver la cara de pendeja. Not ready to give up, and even more determined to find a good artist that very night, Maria and I decided to abandon Sunset Strip and hit Hollywood Boulevard, la calle de las estrellas and home of the freaks.

After walking up and down Sunset without any luck and driving around for about an hour, we stopped at the first tattoo studio we found on Hollywood Boulevard, “California Tattoo.” Not very impressive at first glance, Maria and I found the simplicity of the place most appealing. The walls were lined with various types of clothing ranging from the typical Hollywood t-shirts and sweatshirts designed for tourists, to numerous leather fetish pieces. The glass counter in the center contained an array of piercing jewelry, lighters, and various other paraphernalia designed for the unique habits and addictions of typical Hollywood customers. Once we made our way past the collection, another counter covered with various portfolios of tattoos, walls plastered with design after design, and two Laurel-and-Hardy-like tattoo artists welcomed us with warm smiles. Certainly, a remarkable difference from the other snobby artists we encountered earlier that evening. I showed the artists my design, and without hesitating, Vincent gave me a good quote and said he’d do it then and there. Right before he prepped me, I asked him a very important question. The answer would determine if I would go through with it or not. I asked him what made him want to become a tattoo artist. He simply replied, “the autonomy of the art.” With that brilliant response, I no longer hesitated and calmly waited for the seducing first stings of the inked needle on my virginal skin.

Some may say “la tarde es más loca que la mañana” and I should have outgrown the idea of a tattoo. They may think I gave my tattoo design excessive importance and should have just impulsively gone to a tattoo studio and let the artist have his/her way with me – allow a true artist to immortalize his autonomous work on me. Getting a tattoo is a very serious and permanent statement on many levels, a decision not to be made lightly. I did not want someone else’s personal design permanently embedded in my skin for my first tattoo. I did not want to serve as simply a canvas for someone else’s expression. I have worked very hard to mold myself into the woman I have become, a woman who still has a long way to go in realizing her life. Therefore, I felt it was crucial for my first tattoo to express my individuality, and my personal maturity. I’m very glad I waited until a month before my 28th birthday to get my first tattoo. My star symbolizes my transition from an insecure girl who struggled tremendously with her cultural and familial bonds to emerge una mujer unica.

Maria de Lourdes Pelaez is a Chicana living in Los Angeles hoping to one day make it as an essayist in the world of writers. You can reach her at mlulupelaez@yahoo.com if you want to leave her a message.

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