Moldi Zeballos

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A creative at heart, Moldi was fortunate enough to develop a passion for tattooing at a young age. He’s the proud owner of Tattoo Tears Caringbah and has developed a reputation for himself as the man to go to for black and grey tattoos. We were fortunate enough to sit down and talk with Moldi about his journey from Uruguay to Australia and everything in between.

A – Where were you born?
In Montevideo, Uruguay.

C – How old were you when you arrived in Australia?
I got here [Australia] when I was five, almost six.

C – Who did you come to Australia with?
My brother and my parents.

C – Why did your parents leave Uruguay?
More opportunity I’d say. It wasn’t like there was a war on or anything but it wasn’t the easiest either. There just weren’t many opportunities. My dad was a baker over there. I’d say it was just them looking for a better life. Trying to give me and my brother opportunities in Australia, that’s why we left and that’s why we’re here.

C – Do you have a lot of family here? Were there many people who came over?
I have two uncles that arrived here before us. They’re the only two. So, there were three families that migrated over here. We have a massive family in Uruguay though. My mum was 1 of 14 and my dad was 1 of 6.

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C – Did you start school here?
Yes, I did. I went to primary school in Mt Druitt and then high school in Strathfield South.

C – How did you find the transition from Uruguay to Australia as a kid?
It was tough at first. I think more so because were more of a minority back then. There weren’t many other South Americans and you were noticeably different. You know, being different to a kid is not necessarily good.  I got picked on a little bit here and there but I think when I moved to Strathfield, it was the other way around. I went to a high school where Aussies were a minority. So, I saw the other side too. But I think in saying that, I think we’re pretty neutral too, as an ethnicity. I don’t really get a certain look or I don’t feel a certain way when you tell someone where you’re from, it’s all good you know.

C – Do you still feel connected with your Uruguayan culture?
Definitely. I probably don’t hang around the community as much as I should or I’d like to but I definitely know where I’m from.

A – Walking around your shop, it’s clear you have your own style. You can see how Latino subcultures have influenced you. Are there any specific subcultures that inspire you?
Hip Hop, it’s the big connector there I think. It’s just a lifestyle in general, you always lived Hip Hop. Even just things like going to work, you did it Hip Hop.

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C – Who was the first person that got you into Hip Hop?
Cypress Hill. My first patron of music man. I think we could relate to them too, they were Cubans in America. There was something different about them. Anything from the 90’s era of Hip Hop was motivational, it still is today. We still play and have to play certain music to get motivated to work, that’s what I mean by living Hip Hop. Hip Hop is definitely a part of my culture.

C – You have a son and one on the way. How do you try to teach your kids that are born here about Uruguay?
At the moment, he’s still young. It’s something I want to do and we are going to travel to Uruguay. I’m going to make sure he knows everything and meets everyone. I try to teach him Spanish, I tried to more so at the start but its hard. We are going to put him in classes, we do want him to learn the language and not forget who he is. I myself speak Spanish pretty fluent but it’s a very uneducated level of Spanish.

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A – How did you get into tattooing?
It’s been a passion, I’ve always loved it. I had pictures up on the walls of tattoos when I was a kid, the same way people put up pictures of girls on the wall, I had tattoos. Always loved it, its been my main medium in art. I started with tattoos and then went to other things but I’ve mainly ever focused on tattoos.

A – So were you doing home jobs when you were young?
Yeah, I was probably about 16 when I started doing little ones. I’ve been doing this now [tattooing] for 10 years going on 11 years and have owned this studio [Tattoo Tears] for 7 years.

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 C – How did you get into tattooing Andean and Incan designs?
I would do it every day if I could but I have to do what the customers want. It’s something I’ve always tried to push from day 1. Once I got how to do pictures and black and grey, I then  pushed to do Aztec Incan designs to whoever would want to get them. We don’t have the big client base for it. A lot of customers go for a Chicano style of tattooing or Hip-Hop style; they want that real street style.

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A – Yeah, you can see from your Instagram that you do a lot of Hip Hop portraits and a lot of Chicano style tattoos…
People might say Chicano and Latino but its inspired by Hip Hop. We’re another generation, we are that generation. I think for some of us it’s what salsa was/is for our parents.

C – Why do you push Andean, Incan and Aztec tattoo designs?
Just to keep and represent a part of us, an authentic Latino style. Chicano tattoos can be misconstrued. Some people will tattoo a girl with a gun and consider it Chicano but I don’t see the correlation. It really depends on how you do the tattoo, you can tell a story with it, its like lyrics to a song, you can tell a story with a picture. It’s all about how you lay it out, there could be a reason for that gun to be there, it might mean something. People sometimes don’t understand that.

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A – Are you hesitant to tattoo some people because of cultural appropriation?
I’m not because I got to eat. I want my people to eat, so however they do that, then do it and get the job done but always with respect. Believe it or not I have had weird requests, I had a dude that wanted a Mexican flag on one of the pictures [as part of his tattoo]. He wasn’t Mexican and he tried to explain why but I just refused to do it for him. I said it’s not a Nike tick, it’s a flag and a symbol for people. You got to keep it classy I guess to some respect. When clients ask me for things that don’t make sense because they think it might be a style, I try to give my input and recommend things that might be a bit more Australian and make it more personal. People gravitate to that Hip Hop style so most of the time, so when they ask you for a Chicano style tattoo, what they really mean is Hip Hop, they’re talking about street shit.

A – Do people often confuse you for being Mexican?
For me growing up, if anyone asked me where I was from they’d straight away say I was Mexican or from LA. They used to call me Guacamole. Still to this day people don’t understand. – I would compare it to calling a Korean, Chinese.

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A – You’re obviously very proud to be Latino and are active in the community. You recently got involved by sponsoring the Latin Heat Rugby League. Can you tell us about that?
The reason I got on-board is because they’re setting up and have contact with clubs in other countries overseas. So, it’s just a platform, if anyone can succeed in doing that there [Latin America], they can organise programs for them so they can come over here and play here. There’s 9 teams but they’re all part of Latin Heat.

Moldi’s Instagram; @moldi_zeballos
Tattoo Tears Instagram; @tattootears_caringbah

 

Interview by Carolina De La Piedra and Aimee Flores 
Words by Aimee Flores 
Photos by Aimee Flores