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Doctorate Student Studies Cultural Significance of Tattoos in the Border Region

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – JANUARY 15, 2013 – A University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College staff member is studying the religious and cultural symbolism of border residents’ tattoos.

Daniel AguilarDaniel Aguilar is an Educational Specialist II in the Student Success Center in the Division of Student Affairs and is working on a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in educational technology at the university. The research he is pursuing, “Tattoos of a Mexican-U.S. Border Region: Liberating Hidden Curriculum as Public Pedagogy,” is being done separately from his degree work out of pure interest in the subject.

Aguilar made the first presentation of his continuing research at the 13th Annual Curriculum and Pedagogy Conference in early November in New Orleans.

During the research Aguilar has discovered the globalization of Mexican imaging in tattoos. As part of his research, Aguilar visited tattoo shops in Brownsville, Edinburg, San Juan and Matamoros and Reynosa in Mexico. He saw several examples of tattoos rooted in Aztec history, the supernatural, flowers, religious symbols and the folk-religious Santa Muerte often worshiped in Mexico and the United States as “saint death.”

“In its simplest form, viewers note the artistic value of a tattoo,” Aguilar wrote in his research. “Then, they work on decoding its meaning and the importance to the wearer. This type of analysis is an important step in art classes, but more importantly, all subjects in the curriculum. To only discuss tattoos as a form of artwork could limit the opportunity that exists to explore deeper societal issues.”


Aguilar chose to study tattoos because it is something he enjoys. He has three tattoos, the first of which he received in January 2012. His tattoos depict life and death and honor his Hispanic heritage having been born on Dia De Los Muertos (Nov. 2) with the icon La Calavera Catrina and one of his favorite foods, pan dulce.

“It’s been off and on, a little bit every other month since then,” said Aguilar. “I’ve spent a total of about 12 to 15 hours invested in sessions. They started out with an initial outline sessions of the designs. Then the artists spend the next sessions coloring them. Finally, the artists added some shading to give it a more realistic look.”

Aguilar has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in education – curriculum and instruction, both from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M.

He has worked at the university since March 2011 beginning as a Learning Instructional Specialist – Reading. He began his present position as a Graduation Coach in February 2012. Before arriving at the university he worked at elementary schools in New Mexico.

Aguilar was a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and New Mexico Army National Guard working in nuclear, biological and chemical operations from August 1998 to January 2006. Since September 2008 he has been an Air Force Plane Mechanic (Crew Chief) for Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

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