I was having another fluky day tootling around El Centro. As I wandered along Calle Larga towards Inglesia Todos Santos, I realized with regret that it has been two years since I last set foot in the restaurant right across the street, Sunrise Cafe. I also realized that I had never set foot in Tattoo Kawaz — or any tattoo parlor for that matter.
I opened the door and stepped inside to take a peek.
I was quickly greeted warmly by a chipper young woman, Veronica Leiva Antibero, an expat from Venezuela, and daughter of the legendary Leonardo Leiva Nazarewsky, an internationally famous BMX (dirt bike) stunt racer. Antibero is an apprentice tattoo artist who agreed to chat with me about piercings, tattoos, and colorful hair. She was wearing what can only be described as business extremely casual; an Iron Maiden “t” shirt and poofy pants. Her long hair was worn straight, highlighting shades of color known only to the scientists at Jell-O, her plugs were understated, her grill work reminiscent of a 1956 Mercury. I was immediately charmed by this sweet and enthusiastic young woman and wanted to know more about her profession and the road she traveled to get here.
I was unprepared for the seriousness of the conversation that would follow.
I began by asking, “Can I get a tattoo today?” She looked in her notebook for a moment and then suggested the following week. “How about you come in one week from today at 11 am.? If you have a particular design already in mind please send us a copy so we can prepare a copy to refer to.” I agreed to meet the following Wednesday being quite amazed that the shop was booked a full week in advance. I thought about it all week long.
I arrived on the agreed day and time. “My,” I said, “I had no idea that tattoo parlors are so busy that one would have to book a week out just to get a little ink into some skin.” She looked at me quizzically for a moment and then replied, “We aren’t. We delay our appointments to give everybody a week to consider the permanence of their actions. Getting a tattoo is a lifelong statement that you need to think about. Body modification is a very personal way to express yourself and you do not want to be hasty, or come to regret your decision years later.” I was amazed yet again.
As we talked I was repeatedly astonished at the degree of solemnity taken by the entire staff. I was reminded that tattoos and piercing are ancient art forms and that body adornment is one of the earliest art forms linking civilization and self-expression. It was patiently explained to me that the role the tattoo artist plays in our culture is a simple one — to make people happy, but that providing such a gift requires great sensitivity. I asked if there were any tattoos that Tattoo Kawaz would not perform and was rewarded with a dissertation on the merits of body modification, pain, and the limits of consideration.
For example, when I asked if the studio would ink a swastika or blatant racist remark on one’s skin I was told yes…and no. “We would never object to any form of expression or belief. However, we also do not want to be responsible for a client to lose a job or fail an interview simply due to a tattoo. We always ask them to reconsider. And, we actively discourage folks — especially first-timers — from getting inked on their neck, or any other place that would be difficult or impossible to cover if the need arose. Again, we want people to be happy with themselves and their decisions.”
I was told that tattoos are beautiful in the eyes of those who desire them, and they enhance the perception of one’s own beauty. It is an artistic way to empower yourself and proclaim your individuality. It is a way to overcome fear and notions of inferiority and isolation. Tattoos serve the unique role of presenting your originality to the world beyond the limitations of clothing or make-up.
And then there is pain. Too many folks attempt to inoculate themselves from pain as if it was a bad thing. It isn’t. Pain is the marker that proclaims intense feeling. It allows you to become closer to your own being – to feel fully the manifestation of living. By inviting pain, and indelibly marking yourself you become one of many joining a community founded on the importance of permanence.
Veronica made another point regarding pain and permanence. She said that her generation was raised by parents who accomplished great social advances, often through demonstrations and social activism. However, many of her generation also believe that the pressures of assimilation and the siren call of creature comforts diluted a few of the accomplishments, turning their best efforts into ‘saleable product’.
Tattoos are a constant reminder of the need to always progress further — to enact permanent change for the better, even if it requires enduring a bit of discomfort and irritation.
As I sat with Veronica mulling over what she had said, the tattoo artist on call, Cristhian L Cawaski, called my name. The chair was ready. It was time for me to join the many devotees of ink. I remain thrilled and will be happy with my decision for the rest of my days.