Right after I interviewed John Airo he started teling me about all the guys he works with who have Chicago flag tattoos. “This one guy has a huge chest piece, I’ll have to tell him about your site.” He did, and a few days ago I interviewed Jose Ramirez out in front of the recently renovated Logan Theatre.
CFT: So, hi! Jose—what’s your last name?
Jose: Ramirez. It’s the same last name as the serial killer, Richard Ramirez? The Night Stalker. Which is actually my real brother’s name.
Jose: My oldest brother is Richard Ramirez.
CFT: I’m sure there are other, more upstanding Ramirezes.
Jose: Yeah, but that’s how people remember my name.
Jose: The best.
CFT: I guess it is now fixed in my memory.
Jose: It sticks out, yeah.
CFT: So what’s your story, and how does that lead to your Chicago flag tattoo story?
Jose: My Chicago flag tattoo—I got it in 2008, at the moment, I was actually living out of state in Tennessee. In just this little rinkydink tattoo shop. I paid the guy 200 bucks and he slapped on the flag on me. He had no idea what it was, but I drew it up—I freehanded it for him and I told him “I want this, on my chest” and it was my very first tattoo.
Jose: So yeah, 200 bucks. It was the best 200 bucks I ever spent in my life.
CFT: So were you born in Chicago?
Jose: Yeah—born and raised here in Chicago, I was born in Humboldt Park . Norwegian American hospital—still standing, still a crap-hole of a hospital, too. If you had a choice, don’t ever go there. But I was born there, raised in that area too, and raised in Logan Square, all the way til I was about 23 years old. That’s when I moved to Tennessee. Stayed out there for about 5 years, and I moved back here up to Chicago back in 2010, and since then, I’ve accumulated a few more tattoos. But, that was my very first tattoo and it’s my pride and joy.
CFT: Were you homesick? What were you thinking, down there in Tennessee?
Jose: Definitely, most definitely. It was a total different environment, where I was living. I wasn’t even in Nashville, I was an hour south of Nashville, on a farm. My parents, they retired and bought a farm down there, and I was doing jack squat up here, so I was like “oh, I’m gonna give that a try.” So I gave it a try, but goddammit, every day that I lived down there, I was just homesick every single day. So this was 1) to try to calm my homesickness 2) you know, memory for Chicago but 3) so the pride I have for my city that I was born and raised in and basically shaped me to be the person that I am—I wanted to thank the city and commemorate it through pain. And my very first tattoo was a Chicago flag on my entire chest.
CFT: Yeah, it’s huge.
Jose: It was 8 hours. The guy didn’t even do it in one sitting. He was like, “You gotta come back every Sunday, man. I’m not even open on Sundays, but I’ll open up for you.” So every Sunday, I’d do a couple of hours. And I think it was a little bit over 8 hours worth of work. It was my first tattoo, and one that I was happy to give up that pain for my city that I love.
CFT: And the laurels?
Jose: On top of my flag I have a laurel wreath. It’s the logo for the Fred Perry clothing brand that does the polos and stuff. They started off in the ’60s, or actually earlier than that, and they were designing tennis clothes for the British tennis player Fred Perry. And it’s a subculture brand now. Rude boys, and the mods, and the skinheads in the 70s in England took it over as their style. And it’s still being used to this day, by a little bit different folks now, but the core people that really do wear it are still people from that type of subculture. I myself identified as a skinhead. [Jose’s girlfriend interjects: “Not racist!”] Definitely, not racist! Anti-racist skinhead, for sure. And it’s something that I’m proud of, so those two things, the Chicago flag and the symbol of the laurel wreathes, the proud skinhead symbol, mixing them both together, two of my beloved things in my life. My subculture and my city, that’ll always be together.
CFT: So you’ve been back for 3 years, has it lived up to…
Jose: Oh yeah, for sure.
CFT: It’d be a shame if you came back, and…
Jose: Oh yeah, it has changed, for sure, like for example where we’re standing right now.
CFT: Where we’re standing is in front of the Logan Theatre, and you were saying earlier that…
Jose: Oh yeah, in the ’80s & ’90s, I grew up coming here, it was 2 bucks to watch a movie that had come out, 3, 4 months ago, that all the other theatres aren’t showing, but Logan theatre was able to get their hands on. You know, a movie that’s past its time already in the regular theatre, so they showed it for 2 bucks. They had nasty stale popcorn for 50 cents, and it was awesome. It was great. It stunk, the floors were sticky permanently, the carpet was horrible and stained, and there was scary sketchy bums sleeping in there, kicking around 40 ounce bottles. And I loved it. It was great. I watched Hulk Hogan movies here when I was a kid, and it was awesome. And now—it’s like the place to be now. They hold, like, openings here and premieres here for movies. And it’s all these people that are coming here that just moved to the neighborhood. This neighborhood has changed so much, it’s not even funny. It’s gotten gentrified, and it’s gotten—aw man, this used to be like Skid Row when I was a kid. I couldn’t have come down here by myself. At least—at nighttime, I couldn’t come down here. But now, it’s totally different. And yeah—it has changed, but I still got love for my city. I don’t care how much outsiders have come and changed it or have evolved it to their style. I don’t care—it’s still my city, I’ll still fight for it tooth and nail, no matter what.