Jan 8, 2022 - Economy & Business

Latino tattoo art makes waves

Tattoo artist Andy “Kedavra” Rodrigues in the studio he co-owns, Chupacabra Tattoo in New York. Photo: J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

Tattoo artist Andy “Kedavra” Rodrigues in the studio he co-owns, Chupacabra Tattoo in New York. Photo: J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

Latino tattoo artists and studio owners are helping drive the industry's fast growth as the pandemic wears on.

Why it matters: Tattooing is a booming industry that brings in more than $1 billion yearly in the U.S. alone. Its popularity keeps growing — with estimates its market size will increase 23% this year — and ink artists are influencers on Instagram and other platforms.

Details: Latinos now account for 21% of all tattoo artists in the U.S., the second largest group after white non-Hispanics, according to data compiled by career site Zippia.

  • Several of those tattoo artists are in high demand and have thousands of followers on social media.
  • Freddy Negrete, a tattooing pioneer known for creating black and gray tattoos with shadowing, in what is known as Chicano style, is among the best-known Latino artists.
  • Latino tattoo art now also ranges in styles and colors, from fine-line to floral, with several artists incorporating their Indigenous roots into designs that emulate Otomí, Mapuche or Huichol art.

Context: A 2019 Ipsos poll found 30% of Americans have at least one tattoo and 36% of non-white respondents said they were inked (the poll didn’t include an ethnic breakdown).

  • Almost all said they did not regret getting tattoos.

What's happening: Tattoos were controversial for many years, believed to be signs of gang affiliation and past crimes, especially among Latinos and Black people.

  • But they’re becoming more accepted, in part because of their popularity among celebrities and professional athletes, tattooer Nikko Hurtado told Radar Telemundo.
  • Disney, where 27% of workers are Hispanic, recently changed its dress code to allow visible tattoos.

Yes, but: Latino immigrants and asylum-seekers are still sometimes discriminated against and accused of being gang members solely for having tattoos, regardless of their imagery.

  • Tattoo removal remains popular, especially for former Latino gang members, who usually have face or hand tattoos referencing the group they were in, or for Latinas who were sex trafficked and branded.
  • Gang intervention organizations and job training programs for people who have left gangs offer tattoo removal services as well. There are also groups that offer free cover-ups.
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