The Patriotic Tattoo

This past 4th of July  I met a man who’d had his telephone area code tattooed to his shoulder.

I was dumbfounded when he told me this. We were sitting around a bonfire in Santa Cruz, California when the topic of tattoos came up.

“But…Why?!” was all I could think of to say in response. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be so infactuated with their home town or city to have the numerical code permanently inked onto their body.

But apparently he wasn’t an anomaly. Everyone present at the bonfire had either known or heard of someone who’d gotten one and a google search brought up a few dozen web-searches on the subject (although most of them were related to prisons or gangs).

I’ll have to be honest here and admit that I was pretty quick to judge him on that one. I even turned and whispered to my friend: “God, that’s so American.”

Which is really funny considering that I myself have a similar tattoo. No, it’s not my area code or zip code but it might as well be for all that it represents. Because I have a tatoo of a map.

Yep, a map.

A map of the Hawaiian Island chain. I don’t have a photo of it but it looks something like this:

Hawaiian island tattoo

I know that representing your birthplace in a tattoo is the same whether it takes the form of a map or a numerical code, but believe it or not, I never made the link between the two until a full three days later. I guess I just thought that hailing from a tropical paradise was way cooler than say, Sacramento (obviously, I’ve got a snobby streak in me). I thought that made my tattoo meaningful and nostalgic whereas his was just tacky and unsophisticated.


But really, when you think about it, how am I any different?

Study Examines Role of Tattoos in Construction of Personal Identity is an interesting article about how people use tattoos as a way of establishing “permanence, meaning and stability” in a fragmented and unpredictable society.

The researchers claim that because we live in a world of “rapid and unpredictable change”; in a world where people frequently move, change jobs and even spouses, tattoos provide a sort of anchor to the past and a form of identity.

That made me think a lot of about the aspects of our personal histories that we use to define ourselves. We all do it. It’s a part of human nature to roll-play and get wrapped up in finding new ways to label ourselves.

“I’m an American”
“I’m a teacher”
“I’m a travel-holic”
“I’m a fan of 80’s pop music”.

I think that sometimes it’s comforting to cling to the few things that we know as absolute truths, especially when we live day to day in a bubble of uncertainty. But at what point is it unhealthy to base our sense of self and self-worth on a point on a map?

Photo courtesy of Giana G’s Flickr Photostream

Where do we draw the line between being proud of our roots to letting that be the end-all definition of who we are?

atlas tattoo

I’ll end this post with a photo of Angelina Jolie’s latest tatoo. She had the latitude and longitude birthplace locations of all six of her children inked to her upper arm.

What do you think? Do you have or would you ever get a patriotic tattoo?

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7 thoughts on “The Patriotic Tattoo

  1. I'm also more drawn to the maps. When I was home the young bartender had an enormous German eagle tattoo on his arm, so of course I asked him about it.

    His Grandfather was German. He had no idea where he was from. He also never spoke German or went to Germany, yet he identified with it enough to get a tattoo.

    I don't feel the need to get one, but if I did, I'd get something also travel or location related.

  2. Negative. The closest I'll ever get to a patriotic tattoo will be the map concoction I have planned. American flags.. no thanks. Anything with Texas.. absolutely not.

    I like the sound of yours though. neato!

  3. Virtually every Canadian has a tattoo of a maple leaf somewhere, but it's just not my thing. These are usually the same Canadians who want to/have visited Australia and have or will backpack[ed] across Europe.

  4. That's funny about the bartender with a German tattoo. I've met a few Italian-Americans with a similar story. I guess people need to take pride in something, even if it's a country they've never visited and know nothing about.

  5. I know this is an old post, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents anyway. I have been thinking a lot lately about getting the latitude and longitude of my hometown (Sacramento, funnily enough), tattooed on me. However, my thinking about the matter is different than what you have suggested. It is not out of patriotism or hometown pride that I have considered getting this tattoo, but for nostalgic reasons I suppose. I am currently living halfway around the world and have been away from home more than in it for the past 10 years. I like the idea of getting the coordinates of my hometown tattooed on me as a reminder that I will always have a place to go home to. For me, this is sometimes hard to remember when I’m feeling homesick and lonely. Anyway, just thought I’d give another perspective on this type of tattoo.

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