VVelvet Noir Factions
By: Brenna Beattie
They came in a trickle to Spanishtown. They made a neighborhood out of scraps. Sugar, spice, and merriment brought wealth to the poor Spanish speaking families in what was once a ramshackle riverside collection of shacks and hovels. The nearby Alhambra Chocolatiers, and their factory, brought in people from the owner’s native Mexico to work. Other immigrants of South America, Central America and the Caribbean joined them, opening restaurants along side of importers of sugar, cinnamon, peppers, cocoa, and coffee. Soon, a handful of thriving nightclubs opened, and the trickle turned to a flood. The influx of luxurious delicacies and entertainment brought prosperity to Spanishtown, where a healthy handful of tailors, jewelers and theaters have popped up. Where misery reigned in the old days, now glamour is king. The air shimmers with laughter and jazz, vivid colors adorn every door and garment, and there is a feeling of warmth and sunshine, even on the coldest night. Spanishtown is rarely dark or quiet. The bright young things of the City sometimes flit in for a show and a bite. After all, Havana is too far and Argentina too pricey. If it brings even fleeting joy to the heart, Spanishtown gives it a place.
The name, “Los Cuervos”, began as a joke. The three leaders of the most prominent and numerous clans, Eduardo “Eddie Snow” de las Nieves, Mariana “Sleepy” Serrano, and Juan Carlos “Tiny” Zamorra were inseparable friends, and were never seen out of their shabby black clothes and hats. The frugality of such suits became common amongst their people and someone jested that the cafe on the corner was overrun with crows after Sunday Morning Mass. That week, three strange men were seen running from a shop, having beaten the owner to death. They were bully boys for a landlord. The police called it a botched robbery and dragged their feet. Later that week, those same men were found with their eyes plucked out. The name stuck, but the laughter had turned uneasy. Even when they began to turn to other modes of dress, they all carried some symbol of the crow or the raven; sometimes it was nothing more than a black feather on a gold string. Like a flock of crows, they clung to each other. They watched and studied and saw to it that danger was rare and harshly smothered. Disabled, queer, any faith, any face, if you had the courage and the fire to stand between Spanishtown and its invaders, there was a place for you. The people there had been conquered before, in generations past. They would sooner burn than let it happen again. Outsiders might even join, if they were willing to have a Padrino or Madrina to watch them and take responsibility for any betrayal. But, little by little, as the Latin immigrants were pushed back harder into Spanishtown, and its younger cousin Alhambra, Los Cuervos flocked together and stood against the tide of injustice.
The original three leaders have died, but their values and their legacy cling to the younger generation. They haunt the Café Cleopatra, an Egyptian themed nightclub with genderbending headliners and a speakeasy in the basement, where rum and tequila are served by beautiful young people with negotiable affections. On the 27th of September, every year, the neighborhood hosts a grand feast and street festival, surrounding the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, their patron saint. Even those among Los Cuervos who aren’t Catholic, or even Christian, attend and enjoy the festivities. But, the eyes of Los Cuervos are open. Each one takes note of who may need a little extra charity, or a harsh lesson. Their kindness is lauded, yet no-one in Spanishtown speaks out loud of Los Cuervos’ vicious side. If the “Three Kings” leave a child new shoes their family can ill afford, or a doctor is sent ‘round by an “angel”, Los Cuervos saw their need and did the right thing. When a greedy landlord drowns in a bathtub or a mean husband takes a tumble down an icy staircase, well, surely they must have been careless, or drunk, or angered a bruja. It couldn’t have been those nice young folk at the Cleo. If the police or Feds come by, Los Cuervos or “The Blackbird Society” is only a social charity club with a funny badge and oddball members. Whether out of fear, kinship, or simple stubborn resistance to persecution, most of Spanishtown stands by Los Cuervos.
Play a Cuervo if...
You would gladly take refuge in gleeful subversion over meek subjugation.
You want to honor the past by pushing grimly forward with a smile, whether the past likes it or not.
You want to dance on the graves of any fool who might try to crush you.
Inspiration Notes by the Writer:
—Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, many immigrants came north across the border to escape, were exempt from the quotas of the Immigration Act of 1924, also, the Cristero War (war between the Catholic Church and the Federal Government) ran from 1926 to 29, politicizing some Migrants and causing many to flee the politico-economic upheaval, many organized mass protests against the Mexican government. Costa Rica and Panama at war in 1921, plus Costa Rican sugar aristocracy taking the government.
—Cuban Immigrants fleeing the economic rollercoaster of the Republic of Cuba, bringing the nightlife culture of Havana
—Puerto Rican US citizenship began in 1917, but mass migration to the mainland began in the 1890’s, many left the island after the earthquake and tsunami in 1918.
—Chile has major political issues.
—Several South American governments are simmering on the edge of collapse.
A small bit of Brazilian immigration and English/Dutch/French Caribbean migration occurred between 1919 and 1945. However, the linguafranca in Spanishtown is decidedly Spanish, and most people of the younger generations are at least bilingual, if not more.
Early Pachuco/Pachuca subculture among Mexican immigrants, trousers and men’s suits on women, men in baggy suits, women going out and being seen, men’s hair being slicked back. Costume-wise, recommend flamboyant attire, revel in rebellion (within reason, even the most shameless rebels aren’t going to shame their parents).
“Cuervas”, female-identifying members of the gang, are seen as especially subversive, since a proper Latina belongs at home.
Santeria, Brujeria and Spiritismo are in small practice in Spanishtown. There are at least two botanicas, one “curio shop” (hoodoo supply) and one Spiritualist church and reading room that is slowly dwindling in congregation.
Legitimate Employment tends to be either the candy factory, theaters, the harbor, the restaurants or shops. Particularly, the three competing dress shops, Diane Guadeloupe’s, Iglesias & Desoto, and Vanderzee’s.
Spanish names follow this pattern: given name/s surname mother’s maiden name (after marriage, “y married surname” can potentially be added). Example: Maria Magdalena Casilda Rosa de las Nieves Calderon y Agliani, “Cassie” or “Sildy” to her friends.
Nicknames are a sign of affection and friendship as well as an easy method of identification. Many families tend to favor a particular name or set of names. Example: the de las Nieves family favors St. Mary Magdalene, so there may be several Maria Magdalena’s in the family. But, there’s Marilena, Magda, Lena and Sildy (Middle name of Casilda), so no-one gets confused. Hence the proliferation of middle names.
“The more names you have, the more you’re loved.” Often given in an ironic context, i.e. Tiny Zamorra was 7’2”, Eddie Snow was a very dark Afro-Caribbean person, “Flaca” (Skinny) Campos is a roly-poly person, etc.
Portuguese names are similar to Spanish names, though there is no indicator of married name, and spelling and pronunciation are different.
French names are much less flamboyant, but may contain hyphenated first names. Ex: Jean-Emmanuel-Baptiste Toussaint, Marie-Estelle-Marine Legrand.
Other linguistic influences may be argued (Dutch, Polish, Nahuatl, Aymara, etc.) but most names will at least be somewhat influenced by the most Common three (French, Spanish, Portuguese).
Every member of Los Cuervos keeps a badge on them, anything from a black feather tied at one end with gold cord (or painted gold or silver on the tip), to a ring, pin or brooch of a raven or crow. The badge, if retrieval is possible, is buried in a separate place from the body (belief that vengeance won’t return for the ghost if they can’t be proven to be Los Cuervos). [The leader of the gang will attempt to personally make and keep a stash of badges for people who don’t have them, but please try to bring your own and feel free to be creative with the raven theme.]
“Noah’s raven looked ahead, so the dove knew where was safe. We fly ahead to keep our people safe.”—Eduardo de las Nieves, on his deathbed to his daughter and four sons.
Padrino/Madrina: lit. Godfather/Godmother. The person who takes responsibility for a newcomer or an outsider joining the gang. Usually voluntary, though sometimes a person will be assigned as a punitive measure (potential for resentment and strife).
STRONG SENSE OF FAMILIAL HONOR. Your blood is your lifeline. Los Cuervos are your family, too. But, even within the gang, an insult to your blood family is cause for strife. Ex: It’s one thing to call Tia Sildy a witch, it’s another to imply that she’s on carnal terms with the devil and the mayor at the same time. The whole gang would go after an outsider for it and shun a gang member who made the same gaff.
Largely a rumrunning gang (keeps a few hidden stills around the neighborhoods), with drugs as a secondary means of funding, small ventures into prostitution at Hotel La Infanta (never got very big with Fenghuang Jin operations in town, could cause friction and conflict).
Spanishtown (El Taino Real, La Infanta, Cathedral of Our Lady, Star of the Sea)
Alhambra (The Alhambra Dancehall, Alvaro’s Ladies and Gentlemen’s Bespoke, Cafe Cleopatra, Alhambra Confectioners)
Major Territorial Holding
—Speakeasy, fronted by a Caribbean restaurant. Named for the Chef’s late wife, Cleopatra Cortez. Totally plays up the Egyptian name with Egyptian themed decor and stage acts.
—One of the upstairs rooms is a base for los Cuervos.
—Many of the staff are LGBT+, including the headliners “Isadora” and “Ramon Espina”.
—Popular Supper Club, with afternoon tango lessons.