December 16, 2020

DADS INSPIRE DAUGHTERS TO DREAM BIG: Tattoos tell of unique bond, history

DADS INSPIRE DAUGHTERS TO DREAM BIG: Tattoos tell of unique bond, history DADS INSPIRE DAUGHTERS TO DREAM BIG: Tattoos tell of unique bond, history DADS INSPIRE DAUGHTERS TO DREAM BIG: Tattoos tell of unique bond, history
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By Dane Hess and Saia Langi

Carlos’ arm is shining with the stickiness and bold colors of a fresh tattoo. A pair of eagle feathers hang beautifully just below his left elbow. The artist responsible is a bit unexpected  – his daughter Rosa Sanchez Garcia, age 14, who was inspired to start tattooing after repeatedly getting in trouble for drawing on herself in class. 

She reluctantly let her mom, Marisela, know of her idea and, to her surprise, she replied, “Sí, lo que tú quieras.” Whatever you want, I support you. She was even more shocked when her dad told her if she kept up with her chores and grades, he would get her a tattoo machine. 

“When my kids tell me they like something, I try to support them as best I can. In this case, what she needed in order to learn how to tattoo was skin,” Carlos explains. “Nothing belongs to me—not even my body,” he expounds on his reasoning behind allowing Rosa to practice on him. A big smile crosses his face as he remembers approaching her with the tattoo machine, holding out his arm and saying, “Here’s your canvas.”

One of her first tattoos was of a skull that didn’t turn out quite like she wanted. It “looks like a little kid drew it,” she laughs. “I wasn’t expecting perfection but poco a poquito you can tell I’ve been improving.” It has been a process full of mistakes but Rosa advises, “Learn from them. Try not to be afraid of them and if you are, don’t show it. Get back up and keep going.” 

She is thrilled that she has taken her own advice in persisting because this is about more than just tattoos for her and Dad. It is a chance to deepen their relationship, share stories, history, values and culture. “We are trying to keep our identity,” Carlos says with conviction. He hopes his children understand who they are and how their history is one of strength in the face of extreme hardship.

He then elaborates on the history of colonization, explaining how the conquistadores’ violent policing of truth has impacted Native Americans for more than 500 years. The loss of land, language and traditional ways of life have all taken their toll.

Counteracting all of these years of violence to try and maintain an identity is not easy, but through the storytelling of tattooing, he and Rosa are trying. “Traditions, beliefs and customs are important to us,” he says as he shows the tattoo Rosa recently penned in Nahuatl, one of the several languages used in their family. Cultivating linguistic ties with the language of their Mexican ancestors is one of a myriad of ways they are reclaiming their way of being.

Carlos wants the tattoo to serve as a reminder that the struggle is long and we need to keep fighting. Rosa remembers her dad elaborating on the story behind this particular tattoo. “We have to help one another, and together we’re going to be something powerful,” she says.

Rosa agrees that the conversations had through the process of tattooing provide consequential connections to her ancestral roots. In addition to the benefits of speaking Spanish with her dad, she says, “It’s really cool to get to know where my people come from, what they used to do and how they used to be.” Her curiosity and drive to connect to those who have gone before is evident.

Carlos is confident that this rootedness in the richness of their past will help his children reach higher as they move through the world. He teaches them, “If you know who you are, you will have vision for your future.” For Rosa, this self-assurance is helping her preserve a broad perspective. “As I’m growing and learning, I want to see what other canvases come up,” Rosa expresses openly as she speaks of eventual goals of landing a career in the medical field.

“When she wants to do something, nothing in this life will stop her from doing it,” Carlos says.

For now, Rosa’s just grateful to have this special time with her dad. Last month Carlos got really sick and she thought she may not see him again. She chokes back tears as she remembers her feelings and her dad’s words, “Last night, I thought you were never going to get to tattoo me again.”

“¡Aquí te estaba esperando!” I was here waiting for you! she exclaims. Carlos glances at his arm, then looks at her lovingly and says, “Feathers remind me of you.”