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90+ Chicano Tattoo Ideas to Celebrate a Beautiful Culture

by Sherri Owens

From lettering and popular symbolism to scenic designs, there are plenty of Chicano tattoos for you to choose from!

Chicano art and tattoos have always fascinated me. As an art history buff, I have carefully studied the history behind this movement and the different symbols of their art and tattoo scene. I love how these tattoos are steeped in history but are constantly changing and evolving as well.

In this post, I will introduce you to the top Chicano tattoo ideas and provide you with some background information for each option.

A Note About Chicano Tattoos

Before I show you the different Chicano tattoo designs that you can choose from, there are a few things that I would like to discuss about Chicano-style tattooing.

In the early days of Chicano-style tattoos, it was largely gang members who wore these designs. This was partially because many of these tattoos were done in prison. This is why they were black and gray tattoos - they were the only colors that you could create behind bars.

This is also why many of these tattoos had gang-affiliated signs, symbols, or sayings. However, most Chicano tattoos contained some element of early American and Mexican culture, also known as Chicano culture.

As this tattoo style grew popular outside of prisons and Mexican Americans, other Anglicized elements were added to the tattoos.

So, before you get your Chicano-style tattoo you have to decide whether you want to stick to the old-school Chicano tattoo ideas that are based on people of Mexican descent or if you want to adopt the more contemporary tattoo designs.

The Best Chicano Tattoo Designs

Here are the top Chicano tattoo ideas for you to check out for yourself:

Script Chicano Tattoos

If you want to focus on the message as well as the imagery, then script Chicano tattoo ideas are the way to go.

Script Chicano Hand Tattoo

Image by @manolo_ns15 via Instagram

Now, for this kind of lettering tattoo, you will notice that there is a specific font that is used. Some people consider it a form of Chicano calligraphy - it is an evolution of the fonts used in Mexico.

For a long time, these Chicano fonts were used in graffiti - these were meant to be used as tags for gangs to show people whose territory they were in.

Script Chicano Full Sleeve Leg Tattoo

Image by @threeta2 via Instagram

Eventually, these fonts were used in body art.

So, what kind of script tattoo can you get? Well, typically, this is used for powerful words. This could be family, the place that you come from, or a word that describes your personality or goal.

Script Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @threeta2 via Instagram

Of course, as with all Chicano tattoo ideas, you have complete freedom to be as creative as you like with this concept.

As for the placement, these tattoos can go anywhere that you want although a script forearm tattoo is pretty common. Depending on the size of the tattoo, these words can be inked on your chest, side of your neck, or back.

Fine Line Script Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @genos_rm via Instagram

And, if you are really bold, these tattoos also work as face tattoos too.

Fine Lines Script Chicano Hand Tattoo

Image by @smalls_letters via Instagram

Script Chicano Back Tattoo

Image by @edissontattoos via Instagram

Black Works Script Chicano Tattoo

Image by @genos_rm via Instagram

Script Chicano Legs Tattoo

Image by @joon_letters via Instagram

Script Chicano Thumb Tattoo

Image by @smalls_letters via Instagram

Script Chicano Chest Tattoo

Image by @jay_favela187 via Instagram

Minimalist Script Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @threeta2 via Instagram

Black Works Script Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @noxk_king via Instagram

Lettering Script Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @raidletters via Instagram

Religious Chicano Tattoos

Another fairly common element that you will find among Chicano tattoo ideas is religious symbols. In particular, you may notice representations of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, various crosses, praying hands, and other religious symbolism.

Religious Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @tattoo.times via Instagram

This kind of tattoo design is a throwback to when Chicano tattoos were largely linked to gangs. Interestingly enough, many gangs and gang members are fairly religious.

Religious Chicano Prison Style Tattoo

Image by @slickphillips_art via Instagram

This may be because they have been raised in religious backgrounds and this has been a key point in their lives. It could also be that gang members are more likely to be the targets of violence. So, having a religious association can be comforting for some.

Religious Chicano Back Tattoo

Image by @yuripetrucci via Instagram

In any case, in most instances, such religious symbols are associated to actual faith. So, if you are considering such Chicano tattoo ideas, it works better if you have some religious affiliation as well.

Religious Chicano Full Sleeve Arm Tattoo

Image by @eugenelefty via Instagram

The more traditional Chicano tattoo concepts would involve tattoos that are true to the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ. These contemporary tattoos, though, can sometimes take a bit of creative license here.

Religious Chicano Busan Tattoo

Image by @tattoo.times via Instagram

They can put a Chicano twist on these religious figures. They may add features that are distinctly Mexican or add tattoos or other symbols that are typically associated with gang life.

Religious Chicano Sacred Tattoo

Image by @yuripetrucci via Instagram

Religious Chicano Neck Tattoo

Image by @manolo_ns15 via Instagram

Realistic Religious Chicano Back Tattoo

Image by @arte_de_mi_gente via Instagram

Realistic Religious Chicano Tattoo

Image by @ivanonataletats via Instagram

Payasa Chicano Tattoos

If you have visited LA or lived in LA for anyone period of time, then you may have noticed a particular kind of Chicano tattoo - beautiful women with clown faces. At one point, this was a pretty unique Chicano tattoo but with time it has been adopted by the general population and adapted to their own sense of style.

Black And Grey Payasa Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @sasha_hugo_ via Instagram

Realistic Payasa Chicano Tattoo

Image by @mackotattooshops via Instagram

Now, of the reasons that the Payasa is such a popular Chicano tattoo style has to do with its meaning.

Payasa translates to female clown. This Chicano tattoo was most often inked onto prisoners to represent gang life as a whole. On the one hand, this Chicano-style body art is meant to represent the highs as well as the lows of gang life.

Payasa Chicano Mexican Style Tattoo

Image by @rech1 via Instagram

Detailed Payasa Chicano Tattoo

Image by @fuck.your.tattoo via Instagram

Realistic Payasa Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @andrew_lead_ via Instagram

This Chicano tattoo also represents the fact that many gang members who are imprisoned are away from their partners. And, so, it is a depiction of two very different worlds - one inside of the jail and the one on the outside.

Payasa Chicano Portrait Tattoo

Image by @maksimprimo via Instagram

Black Works Payasa Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @geme.art via Instagram

For some people, this Chicano art form is also a reminder that there are good things waiting for them outside of their bars. So, it can be a message of hope.

Grey Payasa Chicano Tattoo

Image by @tattoosbymiguel via Instagram

Detailed Payasa Chicano Mexican Style Tattoo

Image by @darillito_ via Instagram

Payasa Chicano Graffiti Tattoo

Image by @john_cameron_tattoos via Instagram

Detailed Payasa Chicano Back Tattoo

Image by @fuck.your.tattoo via Instagram

Black And Grey Payasa Chicano Tattoo

Image by @jean.ayala.tattoo via Instagram

Grey Payasa Chicano Leg Tattoo

Image by @billzolo via Instagram

Detailed Payasa Chicano Tattoo

Image by @tarek.tattoo via Instagram

Realistic Payasa Chicano Neck Tattoo

Image by @tattzbykees via Instagram

Chicana Tattoos

Payasa tattoos tend to be borne from tattoo artists' imaginations. And, while they are certainly aesthetically pleasing, there is no denying that they aren't quite real, particularly as many of these tattoo designs are modeled after Caucasian women with Caucasian features.

Black Works Chicana Tattoo

Image by @ashanherrera via Instagram

If you would like more traditional Chicano designs, then you may want to get Chicana tattoos. Chicana is the feminine for Chicano.

Now, to a certain degree, Chicana is associated with the Mexican American movement to push back against the prejudice and discrimination faced by people who had migrated from South America.

Fine Line Chicana Tattoo

Image by @hectorlopeztattoo via Instagram

At the same time, Chicana has its own vibe and aesthetic to it in the same way that Chicano does. When most people hear this term, they associate it with lovely women of color with long, thick hair. They often have thin, highly arched eyebrows and full lips.

These women may wear bandanas and large hoop earrings. They may also have tattoos of their own.

Black And Grey Chicana Tattoo

Image by @ayesuavecito via Instagram

Pepper Shade Chicana Tattoo

Image by @ayesuavecito via Instagram

Grey Chicana Arm Tattoo

Image by @ayesuavecito via Instagram

Chicano Lowrider Tattoos

Lowriders and Chicano history go hand in hand. After World War II, there was a boom in the car industry with a greater number of people buying cars.

In most parts of America, the hot road was the car that was gaining popularity. However, many Mexican Americans were purposefully going in a different direction with their car choices.

Chicano Lowrider Arm Tattoo

Image by @eric_moore_tattoos via Instagram

There opted for classic and muscle American cars but used their knowledge of mechanics to modify their cars to sit low. Many people also painted their cars in bright and distinctive colors.

The whole point of this exercise was to be in direct opposition to the hot rod cars which people referred to as hot and fast. The Mexican American populace wanted to showcase their Mexican heritage and their unique identity within the country. They did this by making their cars low and slow.

Realistic Chicano Lowrider Tattoo

Image by @codyjcharleston via Instagram

Chicano Lowrider Back Tattoo

Image by @imek_one via Instagram

So, it makes sense for you to get a lowrider tattoo - it is a beautiful symbol of Chicano culture all these years later.

Chicano Lowrider Leg Tattoo

Image by @top_dawg_tattoos via Instagram

Chicano Street Tattoos

Some popular tattoos involve a depiction of street life in areas around the States that have had large Chicano populations.

Detailed Chicano Street Arm Tattoo

Image by @artistresty via Instagram

Now, if you identify as Mexican American, then this can actually be a nostalgic tattoo idea for you. You can look through pictures of what your neighborhood was like as a child and have this inked on your body.

Or, you can check out the tattoos that I have included here. You will notice that with many of these tattoos, Los Angeles, or California in general is the most common background.

Black Works Chicano Street Arm Tattoo

Image by @ivano_iade via Instagram

Not only is there a huge population here, but Chicano cultural elements continue to be celebrated here.

Of course, if you have never lived in California or have no ties to the place, you can choose any country or region that you like for your tattoo background.

Chicano Street Urban Art Tattoo

Image by @federico.super via Instagram

Chicano Street Caligraphy Tattoo

Image by @malammore___ via Instagram

Chicano Street Script Tattoo

Image by @necoscrtattoo via Instagram

Chicano Street Nuclear Ink Tattoo

Image by @nicktattooz via Instagram

Chicano Street Full Back Tattoo

Image by @ekayuliawan via Instagram

Black And Grey Chicano Street Leg Tattoo

Image by @prod_tattoo via Instagram

Chicano Lifestyle Tattoos

As I have mentioned, Chicano tattoos were more or less created by gangs. And, some of the cornerstones of gang life include money, women, and violence. Also, to a certain extent, it does involve making your way up in the world and eventually enjoying a better lifestyle.

Chicano Lifestyle Full Sleeve Tattoo

Image by @jean.ayala.tattoo via Instagram

If this is something that you strive for as well, then you may want to consider lifestyle Chicano tattoo ideas. For such Chicano tattoos, you can include imagery of money, cars, beautiful women, and more.

Black And Grey Chicano Lifestyle Arm Tattoo

Image by @lucasbrittotattoo via Instagram

Now, many of the gangs that popularized Chicano tattoo designs were based in California. So, if you want to stay true to the Chicano style, then you can add some palm trees and other Cali-related background elements for good measure.

Detailed Chicano Lifestyle Tattoo

Image by @fuck.your.tattoo via Instagram

Crying Baby Angel, Chess Board, Poker Combination Chicano Tattoo

Image by @tattoo.times and jayb.tattoo via Instagram

Realistic Chicano Lifestyle Arm Tattoo

Image by @jean.ayala.tattoo via Instagram

Realistic Chicano Lifestyle Full Sleeve Arm Tattoo

Image by @jean.ayala.tattoo via Instagram

Detailed Chicano Lifestyle Arm Tattoo

Image by @belugatattoo28 via Instagram

Chicano Lifestyle Low Riders Tattoo

Image by @tania_romero_mm via Instagram

Chicano Lifestyle Mercure Tattoo

Image by @atessoneer via Instagram

Realistic Black And Grey Chicano Lifestyle Tattoo

Image by @valerio_rm via Instagram

Criminal Chicano Tattoos

Despite being related to gangs, the original Chicano tattoo designs didn't depict criminal activities, although some of them did have violent imagery.

These days, though, people who are adopting the Chicano tattoo concept are getting criminal-related tattoos.

Criminal Chicano Spider Rib Tattoo

Image by @pura_ombra_tattooer via Instagram

Now, such Chicano-style designs can take on any form that you want. However, many of these tattoo ideas consist of people in ski masks with guns and money. Sometimes vehicles are included in the tattoo as well.

These tattoos often have a layer of glam over them. This is unlike the single needle tattooing of old that relied on fine lines and shading to create the desired effect.

Black And Grey Criminal Chicano Tattoo

Image by @posco_losco_tats via Instagram

So, these kinds of Chicano tattoos can work if you are looking to put a contemporary spin on your design.

Criminal Chicano Full Sleeve Arm Tattoo

Image by @jean.ayala.tattoo via Instagram

Detailed Criminal Chicano Neck Tattoo

Image by @yuripetrucci via Instagram

Realistic Criminal Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @doppel_sic via Instagram

Fine Grey Line Criminal Chicano Tattoo

Image by @juniorbandatattoo via Instagram

Black And Grey Criminal Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @tattoo.times via Instagram

Realistic Criminal Chicano Tattoo

Image by @u.r.r.a via Instagram

Chicano Skull Tattoos

A cool Chicano tattoo concept would be a skull tattoo. You may often see skulls used in traditional Chicano tattoo designs.

Some of this has to do with the fact that a skull tattoo can be rather intimidating. This is because skulls depict death. So, this kind of Chicano tattoo can be used to tell people that you are comfortable with death.

Black And Grey Chicano Skull Tattoo

Image by @manolo_ns15 via Instagram

People who are part of gang life can use skulls to represent the fact that they are tied to their gangs for life. In fact, the skull Chicano tattoo could represent that they are associated with their gangs in their afterlife too.

If you are religious, then this kind of Chicano tattoo could be construed as a way of saying that what you do in life has consequences in the afterlife.

Black Detailed Chicano Skull Tattoo

Image by @valerio_rm via Instagram

Of course, a skull done up as a Chicano tattoo doesn't have to be quite so deep. You can get one simply because you find it to be aesthetically pleasing.

Minimalist Chicano Skull Tattoo

Image by @chivotattoo19 via Instagram

Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Tattoos

This is one of the more popular Chicano tattoo ideas around! It is largely attributed to Freddy Negrete. He came up with this concept while he was sitting in a jail cell.

Black And Grey Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Tattoo

Image by @alientattoo_br via Instagram

With the traditional Chicano style design, the words Laugh Now Cry Later are accompanied by the two Greek masks of comedy and tragedy.

So, what does this tattoo mean?

Grey Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Leg Tattoo

Image by @ayesuavecito via Instagram

Well, according to Negrete, it is a tribute to gang life. It means that you live the fast-paced fun life for now but that there are consequences for it later on.

However, this concept can be applied to practically anyone which is one of the reasons that this Chicano tattoo design is quite so popular.

Detailed Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Arm Tattoo

Image by @juniorbandatattoo via Instagram

In some ways, this Chicano-style design could be a reminder to not only focus on your logical future goals. It is also important to have impulsive and fun moments in the present without always thinking so far ahead.

One of the things that I really like about this Chicano tattoo design is that you can get really creative with it. If you want, you can follow the more traditional design.

Woman Face and Woman Crying Mask Arm Tattoo

Image by @neroinktattoo via Instagram

Or, you can choose to put your own spin on it!

Detailed Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Tattoo

Image by @antoniodypalo_tattoos via Instagram

Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Full Back Works Tattoo

Image by @antonio__nambo via Instagram

Minimalist Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Hands Tattoo

Image by @ct_ta2via Instagram

Grey Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Hand Tattoo

Image by @jerrychristatts_ via Instagram

Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Mexican Style Hand Tattoo

Image by @rattle.r2 via Instagram

Detailed Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Rib Tattoo

Image by @alexis_yojari_tattoos via Instagram

Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Full Sleeve Arm Tattoo

Image by @jean.ayala.tattoo via Instagram

Black And Grey Laugh Now Cry Later Chicano Rib Tattoo

Image by @suavecita.gee via Instagram

American Chicano Tattoos

The Chicano movement all began because immigrants from South America - especially second-generation American Mexicans were tired of being discriminated again.

American Chicano Angel Tattoo

Image by @y.jun_tattoo via Instagram

What's more, the people wanted to undo the impact of White culture on Mexican culture, art, and heritage. The Chicano movement was a way to bring all that South Americans had to offer to the forefront.

In fact, before the movement, the term Chicano was considered a derogatory one. However, Mexican Americans chose to embrace it and put a positive spin on it instead.

American Chicano Statue Of Liberty Tattoo

Image by @belugatattoo28 via Instagram

In the spirit of this, you can get tattoos that showcase the idea of Mexican art dominating historically American concepts.

Realistic American Chicano Tattoo

Image by @morbius_tattoo via Instagram

American Chicano Jesus Heart Tattoo

Image by @y.jun_tattoo via Instagram

Detailed American Chicano Tattoo

Image by @fuck.your.tattoo via Instagram

Understanding Chicano Tattoos

As you may be aware, Chicano tattoos are the creation of Mexican Americans. While it is hard to pinpoint where this style arose from, many people attribute the Chicano tattoo style to the Pachuco gang in the 1940s as well as other Mexican American gangs across California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the 1950s.

Chicano tattoos became especially popular in prison as the black and gray tattoos were the only ones that inmates could manage. Many of these tattoos were based on Mexican culture as well as Mexican-American or Chicano culture.

Due to this, the original Chicano-style tattoos included religious imagery, Mexican heritage including Aztec imagery, gang ink, and more.

So, if you are getting a Chicano-style tattoo, be mindful of the cultural origins of this tattoo style. And, if you use Mexican imagery as well, then make sure that you use it in a fashion that is considered cultural appreciation and not cultural appropriation.

To truly understand the difference, you may want to work with a tattoo artist who is aware of the history of these tattoo designs and knows how to pay homage to the style.

Are Chicano Tattoos Ever Done in Color?

As you will have noticed, practically all the Chicano tattoo concepts here are in black and gray. This is actually for a reason.

This tattoo art form largely began in prison where there was no access to proper tattoo ink. Due to this, prisoners had to get creative, often using ash as an alternative. However, this meant that tattoos could only really be done in black ink.

Sometimes, when this ink was watered down, it appeared gray. So, people were able to get black and gray tattoos, making it a cornerstone of this tattoo style.

Does this mean you can add color to your tattoo or should you abstain?

Well, you are the only one who can make this decision so it is entirely up to you. If you do want a more traditional look, though, it is best to stick to the original shades.

And, if you do want to add a pop of color to your tattoo, maybe color in small details like the eyes of a portrait tattoo.

From religion to glamorous lifestyles, there are so many different Chicano tattoo concepts for you to look through. With all these options to choose from, your only job is to figure out which tattoo design really speaks to you and is a good representation of your style.

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