Can I Tattoo La Catrina If I’m Not Mexican, But My Parents Live In Mexico?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. 

POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.

Question:

For years I’ve been a huge fan of Catrina and have done all the research about where she came from, what she means, etc. I have several pieces of artwork depicting her in my home. My parents also live in central Mexico as ex-pats, which is how I discovered her in the first place. I was considering a tattoo of Catrina as a bride on my thigh. Is that a no-no for this White girl?

For those who don’t know, Catrina is a symbol for the religious holiday in Mexico, Day of the Dead. She originally started as a print in a cartoon by Mexican artist Jose Posada.

Mexican Responses:

 Just don’t. You don’t need to, it won’t hurt you not to. She isn’t yours and she doesn’t belong on your thigh. (To be fair, I’m not 100% sure that she belongs on anyone’s thigh.)

I am one of those people who feels it is disingenuous seeing White People dressing up como la atrina, like it’s just a costume. It’s not a costume. Dia de los Muertos no es Halloween. It’s not a time for dress up, but a time for respect and homage for the dead. Many White People I’ve talked to about it don’t know that and think it’s fun and pretty. So yea it’s very weird for me to see that.

As a Mexican, seeing this tattoo on a White Person would make me side eye hard. An eye roll at best. I’d honestly write the person off and wouldn’t ever hear about how significant it is to them because I would be avoiding them. Our culture is under attack all the time. We just had Nazis protest our Chicano Park this year for the second time. So when I see White People adopt our emblems, it makes me defensive. They don’t get to just take the pretty parts without the pain.

I wouldn’t. That feeling if doubt that made her ask the question? That’s your gut knowing the right answer. Find a different way to honor her and your connection to her, rather than through a tattoo.

Don’t. We travel to our home countries to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. We build altars to keep the memory of our dead loved ones alive. We collect their favorite things, pictures, flowers. We decorate cemeteries. To White People, it’s a spectacle. A show. Something to just awe at. To us folks with indigenous roots, it’s a ritual. A practice. A time to reflect and celebrate life. I’d side eye the fuck out of you if I saw that on you.

White Responses:

Tattoos get complicated. I think you have doubts, it’s better to not get it. I saw the history and although it seems that Catrina is a mix of influences, it is still something originating out of a culture that isn’t yours. In addition, the only invitation to be involved is to be painted temporarily as her, not on a permanent basis. You can appreciate the image with the ceremony and not in other means.

It’s not hurting her not to do it.

I always try to frame how actions and things will be perceived by POC people around me. Will they feel safe and respected in the space I’m creating around myself? I trust that you have done the research and deeply respect Catrina and what she stands for, but POC just on the street will see that tattoo and not know your connection. This could add to the already overwhelming amount of cultural appropriation and micro aggression they experience in their everyday life. Keeping her in your home where you can still cherish her is a great way to stay connected without causing undue stress on others!

Just because we have knowledge of or reverence for something, does not mean it belongs to us. Also you’ll always feel the need to explain it or hide and it will always come across as disrespectful and colonize-y.

How about just get a different tattoo instead? There are endless ideas for tattoos that don’t involve using someone else’s culture for your own personal benefit because it looks pretty.

I see a lot of White folks with tattoos from other cultures and it always rubs me the wrong way. If it doesn’t represent your own culture or faith, it’s a no.

Why not get a painting or drawing by someone from/in Mexico describing what you’d like? Supports local culture and artists and you can still treasure the pieces. I’ve had a tattoo removed (surgically) because I got it when I was 16 and later (with more education and life experiences) decided it wasn’t culturally appropriate to have on my skin.

Honor her by buying a beautiful picture made by a Mexican artist.

I think one of the most important things to remind yourself of daily as a White Person is not everything belongs to us. We (myself included (tend to move through the world as those it does. Now does tattooing yourself with this imply an ownership or entitlement to the image? To me it does. That said I also wanted to say that there are so many things I have done/said that I wouldn’t say or do now so there doesn’t have to be shame in realizing that you can/should do better and a sincere apology to those that have been hurt by your actions.

To be fair to the person who asked, I think they’re doing the right thing. They’ve asked before going out and just doing it. They haven’t automatically victimized a culture and people – sometimes, people are okay with White folk sharing in their culture (for e.g. – Japan is huge on it in *my experiences*). As a White woman, I want to be guided by POC and their feelings on it. If they’re OK with it, then it’s OK. If they’re not, then don’t do it. It’s okay to ask if you’re not sure, and I think it’s kind of shitty to make broad assumptions. (All of this within reason, but use your common sense. Don’t want to add to the emotional labor POC already have going, but sometimes I NEED TO ASK QUESTIONS sorry.) To the original question, i would have guessed it’s not appropriate off the bat.

POC Responses:

Why would you get a permanent tattoo of something you are so uncertain of that you need to ask strangers on the Internet if it’s OK? Stressful! Lol I’m not sure if I’m White or POC relative to this conversation so…

Yes to all of this! If I were to see a White person with a Catrina tatted on them, it would be like seeing a White Person with dreads. I’m sure your intentions are genuine, but it’s a classic case of intentions not matching the impact. The impact in the case is culture appropriation.

It’s her choice. If she will feel a good way about it, but can she be correctly educated about it? It’s her body her choice. As a local person, when I see haoles with tribal, even when I see local Hawaiian boys with tribal I get annoyed because I know they are doing it for stamps and identity shouts instead of understanding and the process.

If this person is so important to her, she can tattoo Catrina on her thigh. Like the letters CATRINA.

No. A tattoo is permanent and should have a special meaning for something going on your body forever. (Many Indigenous American cultures respect the tattoo) and it’s also a personal statement and in this case the culture is VERY special and personal (Mayan). They were ashamed to be Native not too long ago. I don’t think it’s cool to use their culture anytime soon for tattoos if you’re not part of it. I seen a White Person with it before and I didn’t feel good about it and it wasn’t pleasing to see. I would encourage White People to research their own cultures and create an image of their own. Using creativity as skulls and art aren’t reserved for one culture. Perhaps look into Indo-European art or art from your own family roots to extra the designs to make a one of a kind skull. Win win.

Takeaway

 It is not appropriate to tattoo Catrina on your body if you are not Mexican.

To submit a question, go to How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch and submit a question in DM or email alohakiona@gmail.com.

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