Pinto or Pinta is a member of a Chicano subculture of people who are or have been incarcerated. It is an in-group moniker used to distinguish oneself from the general prison population or from "model inmates." It is a term which embraces the oppositional elements of being a Convicto.[1] The term came from a bilingual play on the Spanish word for penitencia (penitence), since pintos and pintas are people who have spent time in penitentiaries. The term has also been traced to the Spanish word Pintao (Estar pintado--to be painted, in this case tattooed).[2]

The term is usually used for prison veterans of older age rather than for youths. Scholar Avelardo Valdez states in a study of Mexican-American prison youth, that the pinto is a prison veteran who "is seen by many as having a highly disciplined code of conduct and a philosophy of life attuned to the values of many street-oriented young men," which attracts young men to follow his leadership. Valdez states that the pinto or prison veteran has "warrior-like status within the street culture of San Antonio’s barrios."[3] Language used by pintos (caló) has been described as distinct from other Chicano dialects.[2]

The low socioeconomic status of a large percentage of Chicanos in the United States and the lack of equal opportunities in education and employment introduces many Chicanos to this subculture.[4] Scholar Santiago Vidales writes that "Pinto and Pinta subculture comes out of the lived experiences of incarcerated Xicanx people."[2]

Criminalization in prisons

See also: Chicano § Criminalization, and Cholo (subculture) § Criminalization

Police officers, prosecutors, prison guards, judges, in the United States criminalize, or assign criminality or deviance, to Chicano and Latino men and women based on certain appearances. Once incarcerated, other prisoners do this as well. Chicano men endure this criminalization at a heightened rate and are "the largest segment of the diverse U.S. Latino prison population conflated into the U.S. Department of Justice term 'Hispanic.'" Chicano tatuajes or body tattooing, which are distinguished by their own unique style and iconography, become a marker of Chicano criminality for the pinto subject, as argued by scholar B. V. Olguín, who embrace their oppositional status through the act rather than become "model inmates."[1]

Chicano tattooing in prison or tatuteando, reflect the colonized yet oppositional (non-assimilationist) condition of the Chicano people in the United States, argues Olguín, who are systematically criminalized, arrested, incarcerated, and then exploited for labor whether that be in the textile or agricultural industries, or for any other purpose the state deems necessary, such as "dog boys," in which the Texas Department of Corrections used "prisoners to mimic an escape in order to be hunted down by prison bloodhounds and mounted guards as a training exercise for the killer dogs and entertainment for the guards and their guests." Tatuteando are illegal in prison and are penalized by police, "as they do all forms of 'destruction of state property'," since prisoners are viewed as state property.[1]

In his own experience as a pinto, raúlrsalinas notes that people who were caught engaging in tatuteando or if they had materials necessary to tattoo on them, were given a month in solitary confinement. This risk that pintos are willing to take, especially as the tattoos they receive are permanent markers of their transgressions within prison, illustrate their defiance to the prison industrial complex. As such, scholar B. V. Olguín states that "tatuajes represent a victory, a testament to the survival of the human spirit, that begins with a crime! As such, they unmask the hegemonic and inhumane function of jurisprudence."[1] In an interview, Salinas summarizes the act:

Well clearly it's an act of defiance. First of all, it's illegal - 'How dare you break the rules!' It's made criminal. But to defy rules is to recognize that you are engaged in a psychological battle with the prison authorities, the guards. Similar to the intellectual's declaration that 'you can jail my body but you can't jail my mind,' the act of tattooing oneself, or soliciting an artist to tattoo you, is an act of defiance that declares: You can jail my body, but you can't control it; you can put me in solitary as punishment, but you can't take my tattoos away from me.' So it is an affront; it's a threat to the very notion of confinement, of detention. The designs that are created in these conditions, under insurmountable odds, threaten the whole system of incarceration because it shows ultimately that there are still ways to retain one's dignity.[1]

Art and literature


Paño, a form of pinto arte (a caló term for male prisoner) using pen and pencil, developed in the 1930s, first using bed sheets and pillowcases as canvases.[5] Paño has been described as rasquachismo, a Chicano worldview and artmaking method which makes the most from the least.[6] Because of the situational context in which it is created, artists on paño artists are often unknown, even though their work may be featured in museums.[7] However, as paño art has grown in popularity and has also inspired Chicano youth who have never been to prison to use the handkerchief as a canvas, "paño artists are careful to sign their pieces, whereas before they were largely anonymous."[8]

A documentary on paño art entitled Paño Arte: Images from Inside was released for PBS in 1996, featuring artist Paul Sedillo, Manuel Moya, Jerry Tapia and others.[9] Sedillo states how prison used to be a place he dreamed of going in his teenage years because he thought it would give him status, but has come to realize that this was a mistake and that it has only trapped him. Sedillo then reflects on the role being in prison has had on his art: "that's the only thing this place [prison] has done for me, is made me a better artist."[10]


The pinto subculture was covered in a 1976 issue of Chicano magazine De Colores entitled "Los Pintos de America" by Pajarito Publications. Scholar Letticia Galindo has written about the pinta subculture.[4] In a study on pinto poetry, Santiago Vidales states that "the concept of concientización, political awakening, is a key feature that emerges from the scholarship on Pinto poetry."[2] Raúl Salinas' poem "A Trip Through the Mind Jail" in May 1970 ignited a campaign from radical literary critics for his release. Salinas had once been sentenced to five years in prison for the possession of five dollars worth of marijuana.[1]

Salinas' poem "La Loma" touches on themes that challenge the neoromantic portraits of the pachuco figure as a "defiant male warrior here," instead presenting "a more problematic portrait of Pachucos imprisoned by drug addiction and held captive by a phallocentric notion of empowerment (modeled as virility) that often leads to various forms of individual and collective self-destruction, including fratricide." However, rather than being "a self-denigrating diatribe against Pachucos," Salinas constructs the barrio as "a subaltern space where the legacy of colonialism continues to manifest itself through tragic, seemingly senseless but ultimately significant episodes of internecine violence."[1]

Notable figures


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Olguín, B. V. (1997). "Tattoos, Abjection, and the Political Unconscious: Toward a Semiotics of the Pinto Visual Vernacular". Cultural Critique. 37 (37): 159–213. doi:10.2307/1354544. JSTOR 1354544 – via JSTOR.
  2. ^ a b c d e Vidales, Santiago (2019). "Hemispheric Poetics: raúlsalinas, César Vallejo, and the convergence of Xicanx and Vanguardia poetry". NACCS Annual Conference Proceedings: 117–133.
  3. ^ Valdez, Avelardo (2005). "Mexican American Youth and Adult Prison Gangs in a Changing Heroin Market". Drug Issues. 35 (4): 843–868. doi:10.1177/002204260503500409. PMC 3100189. PMID 21614143.
  4. ^ a b Castro, Rafaela (2001). Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans. OUP USA. p. 188. ISBN 9780195146394.
  5. ^ Hoinski, Michael. "How Prison Art From Texas Captured the Art World's Attention." Texas Monthly. Thursday February 13, 2014. 1. Retrieved on March 3, 2014.
  6. ^ Alejandro Sorell, Víctor (2004). "Pinto Arte". Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture: Volume 2. Greenwood Press. pp. 630–33. ISBN 9780313332111.
  7. ^ "LOCAL GENERATIONAL". El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe.
  8. ^ "Pano: Art from the Inside Out". Museum of International Folk Art. 1997.
  9. ^ "Paño Arte Excerpt: Images From Inside - Excerpt 2". VangieGriegoFilms, YouTube. 20 October 2009.
  10. ^ Griego, Evangeline (1996). "Paño Arte: IMAGES FROM INSIDE". About Time Productions.
  11. ^ Brennan, Paul (October 30, 2003). "The White Lady Was Brown 100 years ago, fighting the Southern Pacific could get you killed in OC". Orange County Weekly. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  12. ^ "Orange Coast Magazine". Orange Coast. Emmis Communications: 87–8. February 1989. ISSN 0279-0483.
  13. ^ Arellano, Gustavo (September 16, 2008). Orange County: A Personal History. Simon and Schuster. p. 175. ISBN 978-1-4391-2320-1.
  14. ^ "Jimmy Santiago Baca, Compton College guest speaker". Compton Herald. October 15, 2018.
  15. ^ "The Progressive Radio Show". Retrieved 2009-02-19.
  16. ^ Michelson, Seth (2013). "Count-Time: Neoliberalism, Subjectivity, and Jimmy Santiago Baca's Prisoner Poetry". Pacific Coast Philology. 48 (1): 25–47. JSTOR 41932638 – via JSTOR.
  17. ^ Olguín, Ben Valdez; Portuguese, Stanford University. Dept. of Spanish and (1995). Testimonios pintaos: the political and symbolic economy of Pinto/a discourse. Stanford University. p. 204.
  18. ^ Pèrez-Torres, Rafael (27 January 1995). Movements in Chicano Poetry: Against Myths, Against Margins. Cambridge University Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-521-47803-8.
  19. ^ Fisher, Dexter (1980). The third woman: minority women writers of the United States. Houghton Mifflin. p. 395. ISBN 978-0-395-27707-2.
  20. ^ Olguin, B. V. (2001). "Mothers, Daughters, and Deities: Judy Lucero's Gynocritical Prison Poetics and Materialist Chicana Politics". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 22 (2): 63–86. doi:10.1353/fro.2001.0021. S2CID 144393765. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  21. ^ "Raúl R. Salinas". Poetry Foundation.
  22. ^ Varela, Laura. "Raul Salinas and the Poetry of Liberation". iTVS.
  23. ^ Thomas Jr., Robert Mcg. (9 September 1995). "Ricardo Sanchez, 54, Poet Who Voiced Chicano Anger, Dies". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Brumfield, Dale (11 April 2017). "Ricardo Sánchez: A Revolutionary Chicano Poet Lost in the Wilderness of Richmond". Style Weekly.
  25. ^ Baca, Walter R. "Orale ese Vato". National Museum of American History.
  26. ^ "Folk Art". American Folk Art Museum. Fall 1994.

Further reading