A former gang member turned English professor, one woman’s life of tragedy spun into goodness, an arduous journey toward self-acceptance; these are facets of the stories told by members of the Museum of Latin American Art who submitted essays on why they wanted to commemorate a life-changing experience with a tattoo.

Out of more than 100 members, six were chosen to tell these life experiences and be permanently inked by some of the most renowned tattoo artists in Southern California. In one of the galleries of MOLAA’s exhibition, INK: Stories on Skin—on view through early February—the following video interviews play for museum goers (courtesy of MOLAA).

Virginia Garcia

Virginia Garcia helps victims of domestic violence recover from abuse.

Virginia Garcia helps victims of domestic violence recover from abuse. Garcia is one of six Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) members who were selected to tell their stories and be tattooed in INK: Stories on Skin, on view through February 3. Video courtesy of MOLAA.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

Exposed to domestic violence as a child, abuse seemed a normal part of life for Garcia, one that just wasn’t talked about. This affected the relationship with her first husband who became physically and verbally abusive until it began to affect her children. That was the last straw. Finding strength in isolation was difficult, but Garcia found a way out and a way to support her children.

“So my kids were in a foster home, he was in jail, and I was by myself,” Garcia says in the video. “But for the first time in 10 years, I slept good. For the first time in 10 years, I took a breath and I knew it was okay.”

After several calls to agencies and social workers, Garcia was able to get her kids back with the condition that she move into her parents’ house. Then she began volunteering at Peace Over Violence, a social service agency working to build healthy communities free from violence. Now as a domestic violence specialist at the nonprofit, Garcia helps empower and instill hope in domestic violence victims as they recover.

Garcia was tattooed by Kari Barba (@karibarba).

Melanie Washington

Melanie Washington lived through tragedy to become a mentor to at-risk youth.

Melanie Washington lived through tragedy to become a mentor to at-risk youth. Washington is one of six Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) members selected to tell their story and be tattooed as a part of INK: Stories on Skin, on view through February 3. Video courtesy of MOLAA.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

No matter how terrible the crime, sometimes forgiveness is the only way to move on, the only way to let love and light-heartedness back into your life.

Washington lived through the tragic murders of multiple family members and the feeling that she was somehow responsible for their deaths. When Washington was 10, her stepfather committed two of those murders after she told her mother he was molesting her sister. When her mother kicked him out, he returned and shot her mother, her sister and attempted to shoot her but the gun malfunctioned. Years later, one of her sons was murdered, killed by a boy named Donte. When she made the decision to forgive Donte, she found she had put in motion her own healing.

“It was forgiving Donte that made me realize I had to forgive me,” Washington says. “It’s more important to love and forgive than to hold onto the pain and hurt.”

Washington later established MATFA (Mentoring A Touch From Above) in Long Beach to offer guidance to at-risk youth and to keep them out of the criminal justice system. This is the first tattoo Washington has ever gotten. It represents a new chapter for her and a chance to continue sharing her story about the obstacles she’s overcome and how she turned a life of pain into something good.

Washington was tattooed by Mark Mahoney (@shamrocksocialclub).

Obed Silva

Obed Silva describes his experience as a former gang member and how he became an English professor.

Obed Silva describes his experience as a former gang member and how he became an English professor. Silva is one of six Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) members selected to be tattooed and to tell a life experience for INK: Stories on Skin, on view through Feb. 3. Video courtesy of MOLAA.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

As a former gang member often narrowly avoiding or getting into trouble, Silva was in and out of juvenile institutions for most of his adolescence and teenage years. When he was around 17, he attempted to steal beer from a liquor store when the clerk shot him in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down. Feeling vulnerable in a wheel chair, Silva began carrying a gun with him thinking that the only way he’d be able to get out of a dangerous situation would be to shoot his way out.

“I found myself at a house party with my homeboys,” Silva says in the video. “We were confronted and we were outnumbered. I pulled my gun out and shot one of the dudes. Police picked me up that night and they charged me with attempted murder.”

With his mom pushing him to go to college—despite two years of going to court and a looming jail sentence—he discovered while taking an English class that he was a skilled storyteller. After turning in an assignment about a life-changing experience, a teacher pulled him aside and said it was “some of the best work she’d read in a long time.”

“I swear to God it was one of the best moments of my life because finally I was being recognized by a teacher and not being recognized for not doing well or for being a travieso or something like that,” Silva says.

Silva is now an English professor at East L.A. College and “strongly believes that with determination and education anyone has the capacity to change, regardless of their circumstances.”

Silva was tattooed by Freddy Negrete (@freddy_negrete).

Madison Viestra

An accident left Madison Viestra with scars across her face; she describes how she overcame her struggle with self image.

An accident left Madison Viestra with scars across her face; she describes how she overcame her struggle with self image. Viestra is one of six Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) members who were selected to tell their story and be tattooed for INK: Stories on Skin, on view through February 3. Video courtesy of MOLAA.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

At the age of 12, a go-kart accident involving barbed wire left Viestra with slashes that looked like “a lion just sliced my face open,” she said. Due to the scars and the rollercoaster that is puberty, it took years of grappling with her self-image in middle and high school—and a heart-to-heart with her mom—for her to realize that she was deserving of love.

“I don’t think that I look that much different, like, I’m still, you know, a big, burly girl, and I still have a scar on my face forever,” Viestra says. “Just my attitude changed.”

Viestra was tattooed by Ivana Belakova (@ivanatattooart).

Dylan Flores

An advocate for the transgender community, Dylan Flores speaks about his own experience transitioning.

An advocate for the transgender community, Dylan Flores speaks about his own experience transitioning. Flores is one of six Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) members who were selected to tell their story and be tattooed in INK: Stories on Skin, on view through Feb. 3. Video courtesy of MOLAA.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

Flores spent the first 32 years of his life as a woman, but never felt like he truly fit in with any group or himself. Turning to drugs and alcohol for solace, he found himself in a downward spiral until finally reaching out for help. He soon realized why he didn’t feel at home in his own body. Now an advocate for the transgender community, he describes transitioning as “the most terrifying, exhilarating and joyful experience in his life.”

“Our youngest, he was nine when it was time to have the conversation with him and the way we explained it was that I was born with a woman’s body, but with a man’s brain and I am in the process of changing my body to match my brain,” Flores says in the video.

Flores was tattooed by Nikko Hurtado (@nikkohurtado).

Vannia Duran

Vannia Duran describes her struggle with depression and how self-care and art have helped her through tough times.

Vannia Duran describes her struggle with depression and how self-care and art have helped her through tough times. Duran is one of six Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) to be selected to tell a life experience and be tattooed as part of INK: Stories on Skin, on view through Feb. 3. Video courtesy of MOLAA.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, December 20, 2018

Duran was going to school for cognitive science, pursuing a career in mental health but was still in denial about her own struggle with depression. She recalls the ups, downs and side effects involved with finding the right medication and how hard it was to stay in school while holding down a job.

Duran attributes much of her current well-being to self-care and is currently working on a project to offer self-recovery guidance to others with mental illnesses.

“I think the most important thing that I did to make things better for myself was just accepting what was going on with me because when I was denying it. I wasn’t doing anything to make myself feel better,” Duran says during her interview.

Duran was tattooed by Roxx (@roxx_____).

INK: Stories on Skin, which opened in August, offers a wide-ranging view of tattoo art in Southern California, including how Mexican Americans helped develop a distinctive Chicano tattoo style as well as the history of tattoos in Long Beach, from the presence of the Navy to historic tattoo parlor Outer Limits, as well as technological innovations. The exhibition, curated by Carlos Ortega, is on view through February 3, 2019 at the Museum of Latin American Art, located at 628 Alamitos Ave. For more information, visit the website here.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her on Twitter and Instagram @theasiamorris and via email at [email protected]

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