Cerda believes tattooing is an art form equal to oil painting or sculpture, and sees what she is doing as one of the last handicrafts in the modern age.
"Since tattooing is an art form, we're talking about self expression, which is protected by law," said Cerda. "This may be Jersey City, but we're still in the United States."
The court date for Cerda's summons is March 24 at 1 p.m., according to Boor. Boor said the city health department had not been aware of Cerda's parlor, located almost across the street from City Hall, until Cerda put a sign up stating she did tattoos.
"We started to hear rumors about the parlor in the fall," Boor explained, adding that at the time, the department received calls requesting information on the legal status of tattoo parlors in Jersey City. "At the end of last year, the sign went up."
Cerda said she was asked last year by the Historical Preservation Commission to change the sign she had over her establishment, as it was not in keeping with the historical nature of the building.
"The sign had flowers on it," said Cerda. When she put up the new, more sedate sign, Cerda included the word "tattoos" under the large lettering "Modern Electric."
Cerda noted that Boor, who issued her the ticket, was polite and easy to deal with when he was in her parlor. She said she wants to work with the city "to set things straight."
The best solution, as Cerda sees it, is legalization.
"How can the city be sure health regulations are being enforced, if the tattoo artists can't come out of the closet as artists?" asked Cerda, noting many of her fellow practioners operate out of their own homes. "If they could practice legally, the city could enforce the health rules."
Boor stated that tattoo parlors in Jersey City were a health issue and needed to "be regulated with intense oversight."
Along with the possibility of infection, Boor said the health department was concerned about the possibility of under-aged children getting tattoos.
"We wouldn't want a parlor catering to minors," said Boor. "There might be 14-year-olds walking around with tattoos."
Local expert weighs in
"No professional tattooist would give a minor a tattoo," said Chris Miller, editorial director of Art & Ink Enterprises in Hoboken, which publishes Skin Art, Tattoo Review and Tabu Tattoo. She is also the author of "The Body Art Book. A Complete, Illustrated Guide to Tattoos, Piercing and other body modifications."
"Many tattoo artists, when they ask for identification, staple a copy of the ID to the waiver form," Miller explained. "This way they have proof of the person's age."
Miller added most professional tattooists work to increase the professional standing of their profession.
"Any tattooist who cares about his profession practices hygiene and uses 'one-time' sterility processes," Miller said. "The needles, gloves, caps that hold the pigments and even the gloves used, are used once and then disposed of."
Health department regulations for tattoo artists, where the process is legal, are rigorous, according to Miller.
"In most municipalities, you apply for a license to be a tattooist," said Miller. "The city tests you on health regulations and sterile procedures."
Miller added that many tattoo artists learn about blood-born pathogens and infections before they start their own practice.
"Usually, you undergo an apprenticeship to a master tattooist," said Miller. "It's pretty arduous and it's a year before a student even picks up a tattooing machine."
During the apprentice phase, the student begins by sweeping floors and then learns to prepare the tattooing needles.
"That's the dreaded job," Miller declared. "Students learn to sharpen, sterilize and package the needles for use."
Once past that stage, the students practice on fruit, pig skins, or anything that is like human skin, said Miller.
"Then they work on themselves," Miller added.
According to Boor, the city ordinance banning tattooing is an old law, probably dating back to the administration of legendary Democratic power broker Mayor Frank Hague.
"I think it was a quality-of-life ordinance," said Boor. "Tattoo parlors were seen as 'red light' issues and the city wanted to outlaw them like go-go bars."
Millers believes society's attitude about tattooing has changed from the 1940s, and the change has been positive.
"Tattoos have become mainstream," said Miller. "It's like getting your nails done. If you told me five years ago when tattoos were a fad that they would be popular, I wouldn't have believed it."
Cerda said she gets a wide variety of clients at her Grove Street location.
"I've worked on professionals like doctors, lawyers and police officers," Cerda stated. "Writers and artist come in here. We even had a librarian get a tattoo."
Cerda said she would like to resolve the situation with the city to everyone's mutual benefit. She is sending around a petition to make tattooing legal in Jersey City.
The web site for Modern Electric Tattooing is www.chicksdigtatoos.com For information on tattooing and related legal issues, go to www.starlighttatoo.com.