House of Ink is a tattoo shop located in Mount Vernon, NY that is run by Mexicans. It’s not just another tattoo shop – it’s a home, a hangout where mostly Chicanos and Mexican immigrants come together.
Intensely proud of their Mexican heritage while trying to make sense of a new country, they express their identity through art and design, decorating their skin with folkloric and revolutionary Mexican icons. Prehispanic Aztec figures, La Llorona, La Cartina, La Santa Muerte and Our Lady of Guadalupe are all staples.
“You may come across a Mexican that says, ‘I want a tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe,’” explains Marco Tinta, a tattoo artist at House of Ink.
He says many immigrants promise to get a tattoo of the virgin if she blesses them with safe passage to the United States. “And many people do it,” he says. “I think you never really appreciate your culture until you’ve been out of your country.”
House of Ink customers say that police target them because of the way they look, dress and their multiple tattoos.
“In the Bronx, Queens and the rest of the boroughs, police are very strict,” says Cruz, another House of Ink tattoo artist. “They check you out from head to toe, and just because you are tattooed and Latino, in a heartbeat they take you. Why? Because they are searching your tattoos and asking you what they mean. But if they see an American that has tattoos, it’s art.”
Although some of the customers were once involved with gangs, they all say they have learned to step away from that life. Now they have honest jobs and work hard to support their families.
They still miss where they come from — the traditions, the family, and the life they had across the border. But while they still yearn to keep Mexican traditions alive, they also seek to create a new community in New York.
At House of Ink at least, they can freely express their identity by rescuing their sense of belonging to a family — a family of artists and strivers with Mexican roots; a family trying to build a new life together in a place that’s not always welcoming.
Dyablo, a regular customer at House of Ink has the words “The Revolution Continues” tattooed on his forehead.
“In a way we are still fighting a revolution,” says Cruz. “We are still defending who we are, what we like and what we represent. The revolution continues,” he says.
“We stand solid and we never stop.”