Student, Peace Lab intern and podcast host discusses the significance of tattoos. Photo by Ben Caylor.
OWEN MADRIGAL | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tattoos are an art form that spans across history, cultures and countries. Christopher Luis Paez Reyna, a senior philosophy and race, gender and sexualities studies double major, is one of many students keeping his cultural traditions alive through body art. The Peace Lab intern and host of “The Desmond Tutu Peace Cast” podcast shared what he thinks about before he gets his tattoos and their significance .
The Butler Collegian: Can you just start by telling us how many tattoos you have and when did you start getting them?
Christopher Luis Paez Reyna: So, if I remember correctly, my first tattoo was when I was fourteen, fifteen. I think I’m at that point where I’m not necessarily sure how many I have because now they’re kind of blended together, but I wanna say maybe in total… maybe about thirteen of them.
TBC: Which tattoos have the most meaning to you, or is it too hard to pick between all of them?
CLPR: They’re all kind of interesting to me. They’re all just markers of situations and periods of time. In a sense, they feel like they’re particularly sections of time or memories that are embedded in my skin. I feel that I have got a special attachment to every single one of them, even, for example, maybe one I don’t like [anymore]. But I will say this one has Quetzalcoatl, which is the Nahuatl god of knowledge, wisdom and cultivation. That’s like agricultural cultivation, of course, but definitions vary. I would say that one’s important because I’ve always been a person who is really interested in knowledge, academics and education. That’s why it resonates with me.
TBC: Is that your thought process when getting them, to mark a time and point in your life?
CLPR: Yeah, I would say so. I would be lying if I didn’t maybe grab one or two impulsively. For the most part, I think each one of them does have a particular significance and is associated by proxy with a specific memory of a place, time or person.
TBC: You mentioned the intersectionality of your tattoos and that you have gotten them all around the world. How do they relate to your identity?
CLPR: Yeah, my focus of study here [at Butler] is definitely revolving around decolonization, and as a Mexican with an Indigenous background, I grew up knowing that tattoos existed and have always been a thing. Even before, in my heritage, tattoos were widely common either as a form of art or expression, and in there you can throw [in] social class.
I think that the way we’ve come to know tattoos in our time has been in relation to what the media shows… In short, tattoos, among other things, became markers of criminality, taboo or generally deemed unacceptable — but they’re so much more than all that. For me, some of my tattoos are gang-related because I used to be in a gang, but they intersect with so many aspects of what it is to be a Mexican immigrant without creating a monolith of what an immigrant is. At the same time, it does indicate a lot of that background and historical context that shapes and manifests on my skin, per se.
TBC: What advice would you have for people who are thinking of getting tattoos or are planning on getting them?
CLPR: I think, and this comes from experience from working at a tattoo shop and doing all that of course, the most basic, basic thing is questioning the origins of the material itself, like the ink. What is the ink being made of? You could find a lot of ink that is based on heavy metals. You could also find ink that is more quote-unquote “natural,” and however wide of a range that can be. It also comes into play with the significance of it.
I’m a firm believer that your life is a work of art and what you do is a work of art. I feel like being conscious and putting some conscious intent into, “what does this really represent beyond what is being explicitly implied by some text or an image?” It adds more depth and more, for me in a sense, beauty to it.
In addition to a tattoo artist and Peace Lab intern, Paez Reyna also writes poetry, as seen below.
“After some meditation on this interview, I felt inspired to write a short verse,” Paez Reyna said. Feel free to add it or leave it out. I thought I’d share either way.”
I’m a page.
Embedded lines, letters,
icons, a register.
Read into it.
I’m copy editing as we go.
Engage these empty spaces
Like breath work.
Do you see my skin tone or do you tone my skin?
I’m a page because we’re the book.
I’m just trying to figure out,
what page are you?”