Tattoos are one of humanity’s earliest art forms. Though it has been practiced by cultures across the globe, one of the earliest known tattoos dates back as far as the Chinchorro civilization of 6,000 BCE. According to this TED-Ed video, a Chinchorro mummy found in what is now northern Chile and southern Peru boasted a dotted mustache tattoo that may have been used as cosmetic alteration to impress a lover. Today, you might get tattoos for spiritual reasons, as souvenirs, to express cultural pride, honor a loved one who has passed, rep a crew, or just for the sake of collecting. We talked to 14 Latinx artists about the stories behind their ink. Read what they had to say below.

Photos by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

downtown boys_tattoos_itzel-32downtown boys_tattoos_itzel-33Victoria Ruiz from Downtown Boys
When and where did you get your tattoo?
The pineapple in the rose tattoo I got on tour in Atlanta, GA.
What is the the story behind it?
Pineapples mean a lot because they have this tough and beautiful brown skin and inside they are so bright and sweet. This felt very analogous to the way I view myself. Their shape is also very special. The rose represents the matriarchs in my family and my godfather, particularly my godmother Rosie, who have held me close since I was born. The shell on my arm is because of my love of shells – how they protect and cover and grow with the creatures that live in them and then are left behind in the sea. [It also references] the symbolism of the “concha,” how sexuality and gender relate to Eurocentric views of beauty and how we have to fight that. The other tattoo below the shell is a half moon. I love outer space. I love how the moon makes itself visible to us in real time, not like the beautiful stars that are viewed in the past because of the speed of light. Also, my boyfriend has a half moon tattoo – the other half.

prayers_tattoos_itzel-30Rafael Reyes from Prayers
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got it tattooed when I turned 21.
What is the the story behind it?
I was really inspired by what the symbol meant. It represented so many things – the seasons, like winter, spring, summer, and fall. It’s a symbol of the sun; it’s also used as a compass. And it just means so many powerful things and it’s so ancient. I hated how it got stolen and turned into a symbol of hate and negativity. That was done by the Nazis, but originally the Swastika belonged to – and still belongs to – my people. One of the reasons I got it tattooed on my throat is because the Buddha has it on his throat. It’s because he speaks the truth and that’s what I do.

riobamba_tattoos_itzel-20riobamba_tattoos_itzel-21Riobamba
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got this piece at Redemption Tattoo in Boston when I was 20 years old.
What is the the story behind it?
This tattoo is a piece by Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamín, who was an outspoken advocate for indigenous resistance and Quechua cultural autonomy. A lot of his work focuses on close-ups of hands; it’s important for me to honor that sense of humanity and connectedness through my work as an artist. I think this quote from Guayasamín sums it up and it’s where I got the inspiration for the title of my Grito mixtape –”Por los niños que cogió la muerte jugando, por los hombres que desfallecieron trabajando, por los pobres que fracasaron amando, pintaré con grito de metralla, con potencia de rayo y con furia de batalla.”

dro fe_tattoos_itzel-5dro fe_tattoos_itzel-4dro fe_tattoos_itzel-3Dro Fe,
When and where did you get your tattoo?
In January 2016.
What is the the story behind it?
The “Flatline” tattoo is in memory of my OG Flatline from Corpus Christi, Texas. He was one of the first homies to introduce me to the music scene and also gave me the name Dro. The “Fourteen Twenty-Three” tattoo is a synonym for [my movement] NARCOWAVE. N equals 14, and W equals 23. The “Get Money ” tattoo I got for obvious reasons, but in a dealer way, money has always been a easy thing for me; never really had trouble getting [it]. Now, not spending it has always been the problem.

tomasa_tattoos_itzel-15tomasa_tattoos_itzel-11Tomasa del Real
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I do not know when or where I got every tattoo done because they’re a collection. They don’t have a story [behind them] and [aren’t necessarily] inspired by anything.
What is the the story behind it?
As a tattoo artist, I am a collector of traditional tattoo pieces from different artists around the world. They’re not narrations of my past; they’re not a story. It’s not important when I had it done and they don’t have a “why” – it’s like buying a painting and placing it in your living room, but on your body. They’re artists that I respect and they (the tattoos) have no meaning. Generally, one gives the tattoo artist the liberty to do as he pleases, because you go to them out of respect for their work and you trust [them] without hesitation. It’s important to me that people understand what traditional tattoos are and what it means to be a collector and use your body for that. I didn’t go to the tattoo artist and ask to do a design that means something to me. You choose something from the sketchbook – that is real respect. There’s other types of tattoo artists who you go to with your idea and pay and they do what they want, but I don’t support that industry.

424_tattoos_itzel-19424_tattoos_itzel-18Felipe Pérez from 424
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got this one right after recording our first album back in early 2012. It was done by the same dude that tattooed me for the first time when I was 18; we are really good friends. He works at a small studio in San Pedro, Costa Rica.
What is the the story behind it?
It is a modified version of an alchemist symbol – the Hand of the Philosophers. In the process of learning the alchemist’s secrets, you would swear an oath to philosophy. It contains all secrets to gold making; it’s like a recipe. It should have a fish on fire on the palm, but I decided to get a big moth. On the last night of recording, a big moth appeared at our DIY studio in the middle of the jungle. The Roman numerals are self-explanatory if you know how to read them.

marineros_tattoos_itzel-17marineros_tattoos_itzel-16Constanza Espina from Marineros
When and where did you get your tattoo?
In 2013, I think.
What is the the story behind it?
I got the “I See a Darkness” one (a song by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, later covered by the great Johnny Cash) on a drunken night, during my darkest, or more confused days in 2010. It was at a house party with people I barely knew. One of those people, a very nice guy whose name I cannot remember, was learning how to tattoo and had his tools with him, so naturally I told him to tattoo this phrase on my arm. Since I am right-handed and this is on my right arm, I wrote it with my left hand, so it’s kinda messy, but I love that…You can read the lyrics for this song, but it is simple. You see, I experience life intensely; I don’t just seek light, because I see this darkness, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It makes me who I am, both extremes. I mean, my mind was raised for the extremes by my parents. My childhood and young years were filled with anxiety and sadness, a sense of hopelessness that I haven’t been able to get rid of still. I don’t blame them – how could I? Life’s tough. I love to be aware of darkness. I wear it proudly everyday.

iLe_tattoos_itzel-22iLe_tattoos_itzel-23iLe
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I think I was around 22 years old when I got that tattoo. It was made by Juan “Papito” López from Puerto Rico. I remember that my grandmother passed away soon after I got it, and that made the tattoo even more special.
What is the the story behind it?
The tattoo says “Canta y olvida tu dolor,” which means, “Sing and forget your pain.” It’s from a song that I like, written by the Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández and sung by Cheo Feliciano. I connected with that song for some reason but I still haven’t figured out why it made me want to tattoo that phrase. I think it’s just something important that I need to remind myself constantly.

audri nix_tattoos_itzel-1audri nix_tattoos_itzel-2Audri Nix
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got my tattoo three years ago at my 19th birthday party in Puerto Rico, by a tattoo artist called Vince.
What is the the story behind it?
When I first got to college, I started studying education. I had to take a psychology class about human development. When we were on the human birth chapter, we learned about different theoretical approaches created in the last [few] centuries about the human mind when it’s brought into the world. From all the theories there was one that caught my attention. Thomas Aquinas’ Tabula Rasa theory, later fully implemented by John Locke, states that a human is born with a “blank” mind, and that everything is learned by experience. Tabula Rasa is Latin for “blank slate” – or “borrón y cuenta nueva.” When I first heard the theory, I got caught up with the idea of a blank slate…Life is a blank slate and each individual is the author of its story.

bodega bamz_tattoos_itzel-8bodega bamz_tattoos_itzel-6bodega bamz_tattoos_itzel-7Bodega Bamz
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got my first tattoo at the age of 18 in a tattoo parlor in Queens, NY. Once I turned 18 my mom said I couldn’t get a tattoo, so that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t think about what to get – just wanted something ’cause that was my way of feeling rebellious and gangsta.
What is the the story behind it?
All my tattoos are art and my body is the canvas. They all mean something to me, mostly religious. My tattoos give me character and also show artistic expression. I’ve become my own personal art show; I am a walking canvas.

prayers_tattoos_itzel-31Dave Parley from Prayers
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got this gizmo on my hand like two years ago.
What is the the story behind it?
It’s to empower the people. Every time I shake somebody’s hand, I give you my powers and you can go and do better or worse. With the power you can do anything you want, the good or the bad.

zexy zebras_tattoos_itzel-26zexy zebras_tattoos_itzel-27Gabriel Montes from Sexy Zebras
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I got it not too long ago – when I was 27 years old in Madrid, my city. I got it where you wear a watch.
What is the the story behind it?
I do not care about time. I realized that what matters is doing the things you propose yourself to without waiting for anything or looking for excuses. Every time I look there I read, “Hazlo ya.” It’s determination.

zexy zebras_tattoos_itzel-24zexy zebras_tattoos_itzel-28Jose Luna from Sexy Zebras
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I had it done at 23 in Valencia, while we were recording the album Volvamos a la Selva. It was the first.
What is the the story behind it?
It’s a reinterpretation of the triquetra – three fish that are attached at the head (similar to the symbol of John Paul Jones). It means many things that have to do with the [concept of] three, the union of body, mind, and soul, the “I” of where it comes from, and where it’s going to. I wasn’t sure what to put in the center. I almost got the Illuminati eye, but I chose the cross, which for me is a symbol of love, light, and protection.

zexy zebras_tattoos_itzel-25zexy zebras_tattoos_itzel-29Samuel Rio from Sexy Zebras
When and where did you get your tattoo?
I had it done before I became famous, after saving some money. Now that I’m a very important person I get them for free. It was in Valencia, Spain about three or four years ago.
What is the the story behind it?
“Libres” is the title of one of the songs that I like the most from [our] album Volvamos a la Selva. In my head I saw it depicted as a wild eagle, being physically and mentally free and flying!