Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos?  That, I thought was the last thing that would ever remind me of the beautiful Mexican culture.  I was wrong!

If you are at all engaged in Mexican culture then you may have come across an image of a woman standing on a crescent moon, light beaming from her body and looking very grave yet chaste.  You may have even seen this image as a tattoo.  This is the Virgin of Guadalupe and she is essentially the Mexican incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ.

The Story of The Virgin of Guadalupe

The legend of The Virgin Guadalupe, is one that holds a very special place in Mexican culture.  The story asserts that the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego an indigenous peasant.  She commissioned the man to build a church but had one very strange request: that he first gather some roses.  The story took place in winter so the man was confused.  He didn’t know where he would find roses growing in the frozen landscape.  Still, he took the request on faith and sure enough, he found pristine roses growing from a frozen hill.

The man was amazed and took the roses to a priest who declared it a miracle but there was a further miracle: the roses had left a holy imprint of the virgin in the man’s poncho which he used to carry the roses. bThat image would become the design for all tattoos of The Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Surprisingly there has not been much variation as far as the designs of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos.  Guadalupe tattoos will almost always be about the same shape; that of a standing woman.  She will almost always be depicted in the same manner; her hands held together in prayer while she casts a glance soberly downward.  She will also always have the same sacred light radiating from her body.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

In fact the only common variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos is the bordering.  Some opt to surround the virgin with a canopy of other Mexican patron saints.  Some choose to envelop their Guadalupe tattoos in the sacred roses from the legend.  Some people even set the Virgin of Guadalupe to a depiction of the Mexican landscape.

The Cultural Symbol

Tattoos are not the only pieces of art that bear the likeness of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The symbol has become extremely important in Mexican culture both as a religious figure and a cultural one.  It can be seen emblazoned on flags, in churches and even banners calling for political action.  The Virgin of Guadalupe has donned street art and graffiti as well.

The Virgin of Guadalupe represents hope, a reminder to be virtuous and even a feminine deity figure as many Mexicans pray to her in times of need.  Virgin Guadalupe tattoos have even become a popular design for gangsters who see acceptance in the forgiving eyes of the saint.  They emblazon her likeness onto her body as a reminder that she will forgive all and act as their advocate to the Holy Father.

Whether she is represented as a tattoo, embroidered onto a t-shirt or sculpted to life by an artist, the Virgin of Guadalupe is inevitably a tie to the Mexican culture.  It spans religion, culture and art to become one of the most potent and revered symbols in existence in the modern world.

What Is the Story of Mariachis?

If you’ve ever been to Mexican restaurant with live music, there is a good chance that you’ve gotten to hear the famous mariachis. These roaming musicians, easy to spot in their sombreros and black and silver charro clothing, are the best-known of all kinds of Mexican music.

In fact, mariachis and their music may be one of the most recognized Latin art forms worldwide. Since 2011, this form of music has been recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Importance of Mariachi

Mariachis themselves are an important part of any Mexican celebration: weddings, quinceañeras (15th birthday parties), birthdays, celebrating Mother’s Day in Mexico, etc. They even play in churches on feast days in celebration of saints and the Virgin Mary.

here is the story of mariachis, they figured heavily in the movies of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, spreading their popularity throughout Latin America.

You can find mariachis as a significant part of celebrations in many countries outside of Mexico, including the southwestern United States and other regions with large Hispanic populations. Indeed, the festival Mariachi USA is over its 25th year.

Origins of Mariachi Music

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

As a form of mestizo folk music, its origins are not fully known. Jalisco is often considered to be the home of mariachi, although it is possible that it originated throughout the entire region of western Mexico: Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Colima, and Michoacán.

The first written mention of mariachis is in the mid-1800s, in a letter by a priest. In it, he complained about the noise that these folk musicians made.

The most common instruments in a mariachi ensemble are: guitarrón (bass guitar), guitar, vihuela (small guitar), violin, and trumpet.

Although for many of us, the horn section of a mariachi is one of its most iconic aspects, they were only added to the mariachi ensemble in the early 1900s, due to the influence of recording devices and radio.

Origins of the Word “Mariachi”

There are actually a number of theories about the origins of the word “mariachi.” For many years the word was thought to come from the French word for marriage (mariage), due to the popularity of mariachis at weddings. This explanation has now fallen out of favor.

The word is now considered to be of indigenous origin.

One explanation holds that The Coca tribe, which spoke a version of Nahuatl, had a religious song called “María ce son,” which eventually became Mariachi and “son,” or song.

“Mariachi” itself came to mean “el indio está contento” – the Indian (native American) is happy.

Other possible origins of the name include derivations of the name of a local wood, which, according to theory, was used to make either guitars or the dance platform for the groups.

“Mariachi” is unique word because it can refer to the group of performers, to an individual musician, or to the music they play (son de mariachi) even though, mariachis play a number of kinds of music, including polkas, corridos, rancheras, boleros, and huapangos.

If you have a favorite traditional Mexican song, don’t hesitate to ask: there is a very good chance these accomplished musicians will know it.

Have you had Mariachis at an important family event? Tell us in the comments!

Using Papel Picado Banner for Your Day of the Dead

Mexican folk art is filled with vibrant colors, and one of the best examples is papel picado (cut paper). The idea is to hung papel picado banners to wave in the breeze and you can use this handmade art form to celebrate important personal events such as weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms, as well as holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

Outside of Mexico, it is perhaps most associated with the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) where it plays a prominent role in decorations.

History of the Papel Picado Banner

Papel picado banners add a festive Latin touch to your celebration.

Papel picado banners add a festive Latin touch to your celebration.

The papel picado history goes back to both the Aztecs and ancient China. Before the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, the Aztecs traditionally created a paper called amatl, which they then cut with stone knives. These images were generally religious, featuring Aztec deities.

With the arrival of the Spanish came the inclusion of Mexico in international trade routes. One good which arrived was tissue paper, called papel china (Chinese paper) due to its origins. This new, fine paper was soon incorporated into the Mexican folk art tradition as papel picado.

Papel Picado Technique

Creating traditional papel picado is a technical, time-consuming process that requires special tools, lots of experience, and a steady hand, not to mention a great deal of patience. The entire process can take 30 or more hours for one set of 40 pieces of papel picado.

The first step is to draw a pattern, focusing not only on design but also on physics: it has to be able to support itself once the paper has been cut away. Next, the pattern is placed on a stack of tissue paper, which sits on top of a thick lead platform.

The next step is to cut away the pattern using a series of specially made, sharpened chisels, each of a different size and shape. Once the negative space has been removed completely, the papel picado is complete.

Make Your Own Papel Picado Banner

Papel picado is a great addition to any Day of the Dead party, and it’s also a lot of fun for kids to try as a craft.

Since most of us don’t have specialized chisels at home, scissors will have to do. There are a number of different ways to create a home version of papel picado, but this is my favorite because it creates a series of squares, much like papel picado artisans create. Thanks to for the video and instructions.

Printed pattern templates
Colored tissue or crepe paper in several colors, cut to letter size
Masking tape

1. Fold template in half, with drawing on the outside.
2. Take 4-5 pieces of paper and fold them in half.
3. Assemble them like a book, with template on the outside. Tape the top so it won’t move.
4. Cut through the outside of the template.
5. Cut out the rest of the template. Continue to fold the “book” to access the inside shapes.
6. Unfold, remove tape, and flatten out the sheets.
7. Make your banner: Lay tape sticky-side up. Place sheets on half of the tape. Fold over to seal.

And lastly: Hang your papel picado banner over your Day of the Dead altar!

Want to know more? Hispanic Culture Online is one of the Web’s best resources on the Day of the Dead. Check out our archives here.

How do you plan to celebrate Day of the Dead? Tell us in the comments!

What is Filigree in Hispanic Culture Art?

If you are a jewelry lover, it is likely that you have heard certain pieces described as filigree earrings. But what is filigree, and how does it relate to Hispanic culture?

Filigree is a lacy metalwork technique, generally artisans use it for making silver or gold jewelry. Its unique appearance is due to the use of metal beads and threads, made from flattened and stretched metals, which are then twisted and arranged in fanciful designs. ThePreview threads are either soldered together or soldered to another piece of metal.

What is Filigree’s History

Filigree art is found throughout the world.

Filigree art is found throughout the world.

Filigree jewelry has been found in archeological sites since 3000 BC. In fact, although handcrafted jewelry in filigree is now considered its own kind of metalwork, historically it was simply part of jewelry making.

The Etruscans and the ancient Greeks used this technique for all of their jewelry. Filigree as a technique arrived in Spain in the Middle Ages from the Moors, and then was brought to the New World during colonization.

One reason that filigree has been so popular historically is that it uses fewer raw materials than solid pieces of metal. With limited resources, skilled craftsmen can make pieces that incorporate large amounts of negative space, thereby “stretching out” the materials – literally.

As a colonial import, filigree is common throughout Latin America. There are, however, several places that are more well-known for this art form.

What is Filigree in Colombia?

The village of Mompox, which has conserved this metalwork art form for centuries, is considered to be the home of filigree in Colombia.

A number of factors explain the prominence of filigree in Mompox. For one, the indigenous groups who lived in the area before the arrival of the Spanish, the Malibúes and Zenúes, were excellent goldsmiths.

Furthermore, there was a large amount of gold constantly flowing through Mompox, as the production of the gold mines at Antioquia went through there on its way to the galleons of Spain.

It was in Mompox was where the Spanish crown took its fifth share of all gold, called the quintaje. The excess flowed into private hands, leading to the creation of this filigree artist community.

Today, most filigree work in Mompox is in silver, due to its lower cost and greater availability; gold work can be done on request.  As is common with filigree, in Mompox, the art is passed down from generation to generation.

Tradition has it that to test the patience of new apprentices, they were told to mix water until it became thick. After a day of failing, they were invited to return. Only those with the dedication required for filigree came back, thus proving themselves to the master artisans.

What is Filigree in Mexico?

Beyond the influence of Spanish colonists, there is evidence to suggest that a form of filigree was already being used in pre-Hispanic times by indigenous groups in Mexico such as the Mixteca, easing the transition to the European version of the technique.

Not surprisingly, Oaxaca, the home of the Mixteca culture, is still considered the home of metalwork, or orfebrería, in Mexico.

Filigree work in Mexico is generally in silver or gold, often with precious stones, and, in Oaxaca, it continues to be work of primarily indigenous artisans in small workshops.

Despite the prominence of the tradition, not much is known about how cultural exchange took place. Some of the most prominent workshops are in Ciudad de Oaxaca, the Istmo de Tehuantepec, and the Sierra de Juárez.

In recent years, a focus of much of the production is the replicas of the jewels of the Tumba 7 (Tomb 7) of Monte Albán, the famed archaeological cemetery site of the Mixteca people.

Do you have filigree jewelry? Tell us in the comments!

Gustavo Dudamel Biography

If we think about child prodigies and classical music, most people will think of age-old talents such as Mozart or Beethoven – most of them European. But Latin America has its own very talented classical conductors and composers, as well, who do their best to keep this art alive and relevant for today’s audiences. Gustavo Dudamel from Venezuela is one of those musicians.

At only 33 years old, Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez is one of the most popular and most recognized classical music directors in the world, and one of the most famous Hispanic people, as well.

He was born on January 26, 1981 and found his passion in music very young, as the son of a trombonist and a singing teacher who enjoyed listening to symphonies while other kids of his age still painted with their fingers. He took up the violin at age ten then soon began to study composition.

Gustavo Dudamel Biography, Early Years

Gustavo Dudamel, one of classical music's rising stars.

Gustavo Dudamel, one of classical music’s rising stars.

Dudamel first studied music at home with his father but then became involved with El Sistema de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela (The System of Youth and Child Orchestras).

El Sistema de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela is a famous Venezuelan musical education program with a noble mission: to keep at-risk young people out of dangerous situations in their communities, such as drugs or violence.

Through El Sistema children learn music – formally – so that their free time is spent enjoying cultural activities, as well as spending time with others with similar interests.

El Sistema left a huge impact on his life, and Dudamel has promoted the initiative in many countries, so that younger generations can take advantage of these kinds of projects the way he did when he was a child.

Having had success in Venezuela with El Sistema and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, a young Dudamel competed in – and won – conducting competitions, including the Gustav Mahlar Conducting Prize, starting the young man from South America on the way to an international career.

Dudamel, Young but Dedicated

In any Gustavo Dudamel biography, it is impossible to leave out one important aspect of his work life: his dedication.

Dudamel is known not only for his talent, but also for the seriousness with which he approaches music. Not satisfied to be considered the whiz kid, Gustavo is consistently praised for his work ethic. This trait, along with his charismatic personality and youthful appearance, have led to his status as one of the most popular conductors around.

Since 2009, Dudamel has been the music director of Los Angeles Philharmonic, and like the conductors of other major orchestras, Dudamel is well-paid.

His salary for 2011-12 (the last year that Gustavo Dudamel salary information was available) was over $1.4 million including benefits. The L.A. Phil is clearly pleased with Gustavo Dudamel ticket sales and has actually extended his previous contract through 2019.

Examples of Recordings of his Presentations

Gustavo Dudamel: Mambo (Fiesta) with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. (2008)
Mahler: Symphony No. 8 with Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (2012)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Francesca da Rimini with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (2009)
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra with Los Angeles Philharmonic (2007)

Gustavo Dudamel also continues to be the music director for the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, reflecting his commitment to his country and the musical education he received.

Given all that he has accomplished at such a young age, it’s clear that the Gustavo Dudamel biography still has many pages left to be written.

Are you a fan of Gustavo Dudamel? Let us know in the comments!

Juan Luis Guerra Biography

When you want to talk about important Latin musicians, it’s impossible not to mention legend Juan Luis Guerra. From the Dominican Republic, this well-known singer and songwriter was creating music to the smooth rhythms of bachata long before the current crop of Latin crooners made this type of music popular with urban Hispanic youth.

Juan Luis Guerra Biography and Early Life

Juan Luis Guerra was born on June 7, 1957. As a ten-year old, he already knew how to play guitar, but he didn’t discover that music was his real passion until much later.

Juan Luis studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, an education which is clearly reflected in his poetic and socially conscious lyrics.

He then decided to try his luck in the United States, where he attended the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston. During that time, he returned periodically to his native country the Dominican Republic to work at a television channel so he could afford his stay in the United States.

Juan Luis Guerra, in a concert in Madrid.

Juan Luis Guerra, in a concert in Madrid.

An essential part of any Juan Luis Guerra biography is that he has been internationally awarded many times for his work, with achievements that practically no Hispanic singers and musicians have ever accomplished before. He won his first Grammy for “Bachata Rosa” (1990) with his band 440 and has continued from there.

Many of his best-known records have topics which discuss social issues. For example, “Ojalá que llueva café” (1989), the album that represented the beginning of his international career. The title song, now a classic of Latin music, metaphorically wishes for food (and coffee, “café”) to rain from the sky so that the peasants have something to eat.

In 1992, he released “Areíto,” creating controversy due to the lyrics of the songs which protest against the challenges and poor conditions present in Latin America.

Famous Juan Luis Guerra Songs

Want to hear for yourself? Here are a few of his most popular songs:

“Ojalá que llueva café”
“Burbujas de amor”
“Bachata rosa”
“Estrellitas y duendes”
“El costo de la vida”
“Como abeja al panal”
“A pedir su mano”
“Palomita blanca”
“La Llave de Mi Corazón”
“Mi PC”
“Las avispas”
“Para ti”

His personal life has also influenced his music in direct ways. In 2004, after six years of silence he came back with “Para ti,” an album that represents Guerra’s conversion to Christianity.

Although some fans were disappointed by the evangelism in his lyrics, this album sold more than half a million copies and earned him two Billboard Awards.

Juan Luis Guerra Tours

He has always toured heavily world-wide and the Juan Luis Guerra tour continues to sell out throughout Latin America.

He even once said that at the beginning of his career, sometimes he was so exhausted on tour that he couldn’t even remember which country he was in! At that time, the tour was one of the most anticipated tours in the region, with Juan Luis Guerra tickets selling out long in advance.

Guerra, known for his beard, hat, and infectious smile, is one of the most famous Hispanic people and has worked with many other Latin and non-Latin artists, even touring with some.

Guerra has also surprised his fans by singing in other languages such as English (“July 19th”) or Portuguese (“Fogaraté”).

Another key aspect of any Juan Luis Guerra biography is the message that his music and his concerts give. Guerra is well-known for his positive lyrics, and his shows reflect that. He tries to transmit his faith to the audience, encouraging them to be optimistic and thankful to God for His gifts.

Guerra continues to be commercially successful, and any Juan Luis Guerra biography is certainly a work in progress.

Are you a fan of Juan Luis Guerra fan? Tell us your favorite songs in the comments!

Tin Artwork in Latin America

Entering a store that sells Hispanic art, one of the most common, yet beautiful, things that you will see is a variety of artisan pieces made of tin. Tin, or hojalata, has played a significant role in the Mexican creative arts for centuries. As with many Latin American art techniques, Mexican tin art has its basis in Europe but with a decidedly New World twist.

Tin itself is a chemical element, readily available and not easily oxidized, both of which made it popular since recorded history, both alone and combined with other metals.

In fact, mixed with copper, it forms bronze, the first known alloy which dates back to 3000 BC. Tin also forms part of pewter and is often used to plate steel in order to prevent corrosion.

The History of Tin Artwork in Latin America

Tinwork mobile from Oaxaca, Mexico.

Tinwork mobile from Oaxaca, Mexico.

The use of tin as artisan technique, particularly pierced tin, began in central Europe where it was used to create decorative yet useful housewares. These designs varied widely depending on the location and the type of item.

One common item created with the punched tin technique was lanterns, which provided a way to transport light safely with beautiful results. These types of punched tin items were created in the Americas since the beginning of colonization. In fact, there is even a type of tin lantern named after famed American hero Paul Revere.

Although tin was already available in Mexico before the Spanish arrived, Mexicans didn’t use it on a large scale. The introduction of European methods set the stage for the regionalization of tin work in Latin America.

The rise of tin artwork in Hispanic history and culture began in the 18th century, when the coating of tin onto iron was perfected (tinplate). Given its low cost, it became the common man’s way to have design objects in the home.

Tin Artwork in Mexico

In Mexico, these tin pieces take on a number of traditional forms. Some of the most common are frames, mirrors, and pieces from Hispanic religion such as retablos and milagros, the small tin pieces in the shape of body parts that are offered as thanks to a saint after a perceived miracle.

Mexicans applied the traditional European use of hojalata in the creation of lanterns making it one of the most common uses is the luminaria (lamp).

However, the technique is versatile and other applications of tin artwork in Latin America include candelabras, jewelry boxes, Nativity scenes, and more.

Designs and motifs in pierced tin art, while varied, include flowers, whimsical curlicues, and geometrical figures. Also common are roosters, birds, and other animals, hearts, and representations of the human body.

The style of the tin artwork also depends on the region of Mexico. For example, in Oaxaca, you may see shiny pieces or pieces which have been painted colorfully. But in San Miguel de Allende, considered a center for metalwork, artisans age the pieces through oxidation for a different look.

How to Create Art in Hojalata

As an ancient artisan method, the creation of pieces in hojalata (also called lámina) is relatively simple. Depending on its thickness, the piece can generally be cut with scissors. It is then embossed with the design through the use of hammers and other specialized tools. Then, it is welded together as needed.

The tinplate can be left as-is or it can be painted with dyes and lacquers, diluted with alcohol or paint thinner.

As “the poor man’s silver,” tin artwork in Latin America and the artisans who made it were underestimated and overlooked for years.

So the next time you get a chance to see some, take a good look and think about the ancient history of this artistic technique.

Do you own any tin work art? Tell us where in the comments!

What Is Adobe – The Most Typical Example of Folk Architecture in Hispanic Culture

When you think about Hispanic folk architecture, it’s likely that you think of an adobe structure. You may know what it looks like, but what is adobe, exactly?

The word adobe, much like the material itself, has been around for thousands of years. Traced to the Egyptian for “mud brick,” adobe in Spanish comes directly from the Arabic word al-tub (also “mud brick”). In the early 18th century, English borrowed the word from Spanish.

What Is Adobe?

An example of adobe in Argentina.

An example of adobe in Argentina.

The beauty of adobe, as well as the reason that it is such an important building material worldwide, is its simplicity. Adobe has only three or four ingredients: clay, water, sand (usually), and some kind of organic material, such as straw or manure. As such, it is easy to make and to use. In current context, it’s also expensive.

To create an adobe building, first you have to make adobe bricks. The raw materials are mixed and then put into a frame, which is removed once the mixture has set. The bricks are then left to dry.

This same mixture, minus any straw, is used as mortar, as well as painted onto walls, leaving the typical flat look that is the “adobe” that most of us are familiar with.

This building material is used throughout the world, with prominent examples being West Asia, North and West Africa, Spain, Eastern Europe, and parts of England.

Of course, many Hispanics consider it a kind of Latin decor, especially since the word is from Spanish. Use in the Southwestern United States (most notably New Mexico), Mesoamerica, and the Andes dates back thousands of years.

Cool in the Day, Warm at Night

So why is adobe particularly popular in certain parts of Latin America?  One reason is due to its high thermal mass, or its ability to store heat.

Adobe walls, in essence, average out the temperature over the course of the day. This makes it ideal for locations that are hot during the day, yet cool at night, such as deserts.

During the day, the adobe heats up but doesn’t allow that heat to enter the inside of the home; this keeps the home cool. Yet at nighttime, the adobe walls release the heat slowly into the home, protecting it from the cool air outside. Pretty amazing!

Adobe buildings are in general very sturdy; in fact, some of the oldest buildings in the world are made of adobe. Unfortunately, they are also susceptible to earthquakes, a trait which has had impacts in places such as Guatemala and Chile.

In the United States, if you ask “What is adobe?” you may hear a more specific meaning, as well. It generally refers to the style of adobe architecture that is common in the Southwest, particularly New Mexico. The Pueblos of the Southwest are the most typical example of this art.

Are you a fan of adobe architecture? Let us know in the comments!