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El Paso Ink: Residents Commemorate A Tragedy, Honor Their City With Tattoos

In the last week, El Pasoans have written songs, poems and created artwork to commemorate the victims of the Aug. 3 mass shooting. Some of that artwork is the kind you carry through a lifetime.

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Chrystal Melendrez honors a fallen family member and her home town with a tattoo created by her cousin, Victor Hernandez. Aug. 10, 2019.

A wooden casket near the entry is the sole reminder that Ink Society Tattoo Studio in Central El Paso used to be a funeral parlor.

On the one-week anniversary of the mass shootings in El Paso, Ink Society honored the dead with El Paso-inspired tattoos. 

Tattoo artist Victor Hernandez spent his day inking his designs on customers, with proceeds benefiting victims and their families. He’s been in El Paso for 13 years. 

“I always try to put back into the community,” Hernandez said. “I tried to think of El Paso-inspired tattoos… I have 24 different designs that I did.”

Hernandez tattooed one of those designs on his cousin, Chrystal Melendez.

“We actually lost a family member,” said Melendez, who did not want to reveal the victim’s identity. “This isn’t just for our one family member that we lost. This is just for everybody. I don’t ever want to forget.”

Her forearm tattoo is of the iconic star that lights up each night on the Franklin Mountains. In the backdrop, there’s one of El Paso’s colorful sunsets, bordered by the state of Texas.

“I knew I wanted to do something, I just didn’t know what,” Melendez said. “This is a way I can give back to the community while having something to remember everyone that passed that day.”


Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Victor Hernandez tattooing Samantha Zambrano

Samantha Zambrano is an El Paso native. Her tattoo, also on her forearm, is the state of Texas embellished by a red rose, with a black star over El Paso. She says that no matter where you go, El Pasoans are always rooted to their city. 

“It’s my people, it’s my home, it’s my city,” said Zambrano. “It just kind of reminds me of where I’m from. When we came out with that slogan #ElPasoStrong - God, that is beyond true. It’s just that reminder. And you’re never going to forget about home.”

Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio
Fernando Rios, Darlene Henderson, and Raquel Henderson wait for their #ElPasoStrong tattoos in the lobby of Ink Society. Aug. 10, 2019.

Darlene Henderson waits in a busy lobby with her wife and a friend waiting to get their El Paso-inspired tattoos. She says she wants to represent her hometown. 

“I feel kind of protective of my city right now, very delicate, sensitive,” Henderson said. “Nothing like that has ever happened here, to my knowledge. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. It was very heavy, very hard. So, the fact that I get a piece of that and have that with me forever.” 

Henderson was moved, but not surprised at the outpouring of love and support from the El Paso community for the victims of the tragedy and for each other. 

“I like to… look at art on my skin,” she said. “And to me, it’s going to be a special memory of the tragedy and the good (that) can come of something ugly.”

And that’s a memory that will stay with her for a lifetime.

Norma Martinez can be reached at Norma@TPR.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1.