50 Amazing Mexican Tattoo Designs & Meanings – Skulls, Mafia, Eagles, Flag, Gang (2017)
Tattoos, just like any other art form, offer a picture of the culture and belief of a people. In South America, too, the same is happening and has been happening since time immemorial.
It is only now, though, that the once isolated style of tattooing is getting out and capturing the eye of people.
These tattoos, also known as Chicano tattoos, have a distinct ‘loud’ character because they are usually very colourful and large. To understand the inspiration behind Mexican tattoos, here’s a brief history of the tradition.
History of Mexican tattoos
The area now known as Mexico was the home to several Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya, Aztec, Olmec and Toltec. These were the major tribes occupying the region.
However, the Aztecs could be considered the most successful because they managed to conquer other neighbouring tribes to create an empire. Thus, it is understandable why the Aztec influence on Mexican tattoo art is so profound.
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Meaning behind these tattoos
Depending on the type of tattoo, they have various meanings. The one common factor in all designs, however, is that they all have a religious background, originating from the beliefs of the Mexican people.
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Types of Mexican tattoos
- Day of the dead
This is one of the most common design of a tattoo to originate from the Mexican region. Every year the people of Mexico have a celebration to remember the dead called ‘Día de Muertos’.
They believe that death should not be just a sad occasion, which we ought to celebrate the passing of our loved ones to a better place. These tattoos also remind us of the fragility of life, and that we are all going to die someday. I know, it sounds a bit dark, but the tattoos are anything but.
These tattoos are made from a skull, which is then further embellished in order to be more colourful, just as is typical in all Mexican tattoos. The skulls are coloured in various colours to indicate a specific meaning such as white for the purity of a passed soul.
When the tattoo includes more than a skull, the skeleton is usually in a joyful mood, maybe singing or dancing, all to show happiness. To make the tattoo even more colourful, flowers may even be added.
- Mexican flag and eagle
On the Mexican flag is the image of an eagle, and the same eagle is the country’s coat of arms. In order to show patriotism to the country, many Mexicans get these tattoos.
Besides the Mexican citizens, other people are getting attracted to the beauty of the eagle and the colours of the flag: green, white and red.
The red colour depicts sacrifice and unity, green shows freedom and hope while white holds for purity and faith.
The Mexican eagle, though, is particularly unique because it has a snake in its mouth and is also perched on a cactus plant. These are symbols of the Mexican environment but also tell a story of the Aztec ancestors who believed in the eagle as a source of strength for battle.
The snake represents Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god and the most powerful. He was believed to be the god of weather, creativity and fertility.
- Mexican gangs and prison tattoos
For identification, Mexican mafia members, which is the largest gang, get similar tattoos to differentiate themselves from other gangs. They are usually done with the simple initials ‘MM’ or a more ornate eagle holding a snake with the initials ‘EME’.
Prison tattoos, on the other hand, are mostly very detailed and commonly include a depiction of a Christian symbol such as Christ, the cross or the Virgin Mary.
- Aztec-inspired tattoos
One of the most successful and tribes to exist in the Mesoamerica were the Aztecs. They managed to create the Aztec empire through ingenuity in architecture. Besides the warring side of the people, they were hugely religious, practicing rich and complex religious traditions.
They also expressed their religious beliefs through art, and tattooing was one of the art forms. The Aztecs believed nothing was more personal than a tattoo to express your love for God, and so the Aztecs were heavily tattooed, and even the children were not left behind.
Although they were pretty advanced for their time, the tools they used were primitive and the designs were pretty rudimentary. They got tattoos for either identification between the tribes, to honour a specific god or as a symbol of status.
Tribal Aztec tattoos are very common these days because of their symbolic meaning. They are not exactly pretty and people get them to honour the culture of the once powerful Aztecs.
Other Aztec related images you can use for tattoo designs include the Aztec blade, an Aztec warrior skull or an Aztec princess image.
- Sun and Moon tattoos
All the designs share some similarities, though, for example, the sun is usually included somewhere, even just by a simple circle. This was in honour of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, the guardian of the heavens. Nowadays, the symbol of the sun indicates a belief in the afterlife.
The moon can be seen in the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is an image of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon being supported by an angel, then there is a light emanating from her body like a halo.
This image is the product of an ancient tale of a man who was apparently visited by the Virgin Mary and it was left on his poncho. Again, this is just a myth, but it goes further to illustrate just how religious the Mexican people are.
Besides the more common Christian and religious interpretation of the cross, the symbol has actually existed for far longer than that. The Aztec cross, however, is unique because of the circle at the point where the two pieces intersect.
Like I mentioned, the sun is a common symbol usually included in most artwork.
- Religious symbols
The Mexican people are very religious, and mostly catholic, so it’s common to find a Chicano tattoo with a Christian reference such as the image of Jesus on the cross.