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Metro-Specific Underworld

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Criminal underworlds have ethnic backgrounds specific to the locale of the setting.

Also see Generic Ethnic Crime Gang for the Honorable Mentions - gangs not pervasive enough to have their own tropes yet.


  • If the city has a Chinatown, expect the Triads and the Tongs to show up at your door.
  • If the city is Miami, this will vary somewhat by time period:
    • In stories set in The '50s or earlier, the criminals will generally speak Italian or Yiddish.
    • Over the course of The '60s, The '70s, and The '80s, Italian and Jewish criminals will increasingly be replaced by Cubans. The two key dates for this are 1959, when the Cuban Revolution caused a number of the island's gangsters to seek refuge in America, and 1980, when the Mariel Boatlift brought a number of people to Miami who were newly released from Castro's jails. The latter generation will generally be portrayed as more ruthless, less white collar, and less concerned with showing an Affably Evil face than the former.
    • In The '80s, the Miami underworld increasingly diversifies as criminals from other countries south of the border join the big leagues - Haitians, Central Americans, and especially Colombians. The Miami Vice image of Miami as the land of The Cartel dates from this era. However, none of these new groups ever quite displaced the Cubans, especially in the popular imagination.
    • Finally, we have The '90s, when due to subsequent influx of people and capital from the former Soviet Union, you should probably add Russian to your list of languages.
  • New Jersey and New York: as with Miami, this is layered by time period.
    • In the nineteenth century, you should speak Gaelic. You'll also be able to get through a surprising number of bad neighborhoods with nothing but English, thanks to the local gangs of Politically Incorrect Villains who want to drive the Irish immigrants into the sea. Those gangs will ultimately fail, however, and by the end of the nineteenth century are completely extinct.
    • In the first half of the twentieth century, Italian becomes absolutely obligatory, as to a lesser extent does Yiddish. The Irish are still around, often in a Mob War with the Italians, especially for control of the alcohol trade in The Roaring '20s. However, this is when the Mafia becomes the widely acknowledged leader of the underworld.
    • In the second half of the twentieth century (as seen in American Gangster), African-American Vernacular English (AAVE for short)note  becomes more and more of a must, especially in Harlem, certain parts of Brooklyn, and Newark. Spanish will come in handy in other parts of the same areas, although a lot of the time the Spanish speakers will be civilians. You'll sometimes hear Greek, especially in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. Finally, thanks to immigration, Russian becomes more important as well, especially in the vicinity of Brighton Beach, which may lead to a Mob War with the Italians.
  • Chicago, Illinois: You can speak Italian or Irish. Just don't let the Yiddish guys hear you, unless you have a deal with the Italians. Don't forget to watch out for the Polish folks, as well: they own the town. And on the South Side, you can find a lot of Gangbangers speaking AAVE and Spanish.
  • Los Angeles, California: Speak Spanish, and learn the difference between "barrio" and "narco". In certain parts of the city and in the surrounding countryside, men on motorcycles are not your friends. You will also need AAVE, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian and Vietnamese, plus others you'd never considered, like Armenian. You know, really, you should just keep quiet.
  • San Francisco, California: Speak Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and AAVE, lest you get your head blown off. In the old days, you'll have heard Italian along the way.
  • Baltimore, Maryland: AAVE and Greek, to a lesser extent. Italian used to be spoken in this city but the local Mafia presence is now non-existent.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: AAVE, Italian, Irish, and the occasional Greek. Remember how "they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night"? That's the Mafia.
    • Speaking of that song: Atlantic City, New Jersey: AAVE in the hood, Philly Italian historically and near the casinos.
  • Providence, Rhode Island: Irish and Italian.
  • Boston, Massachusetts: Mostly Irish, with the occasional Italian or AAVE thrown in for flavor. In reality, knowing French, Portuguese, and/or Spanish doesn't hurt either, due to the Haitian, Cape Verdean, Brazilian, and Colombian communities in the city, though most of them are quite civil.
  • Detroit, Michigan: Mostly AAVE, but you'll hear snatches of very menacing Italian and Greek. If you plan on hanging in Highland Park, learn Hmong. The ones speaking Arabic (Chaldeans, mostly) and Armenian look menacing, but are completely aboveboard and harmless unless you plan on knocking over their store/restaurant.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: Historically Italian, nowadays it's AAVE.
  • Cleveland, Ohio: A chaotic mixture of Irish and Italian especially in the 70s.
  • Kansas City, Missouri: Used to be a rather violent boiling pot of Italian, Irish, Yiddish, and AAVE. Once the home of Tom Pendergast, a notoriously Corrupt Politician.
  • In almost any mid-sized Northeastern or Midwestern city, Italian is the lingua franca for crime syndicates.
  • Though rarely shown in media portrayals, Hawaiʻi has an underworld reflective of its diversity. Yakuza, Triads and especially Tongs are prevalent, and there are also many factions of Polynesian ethnicities such as Native Hawaiians, Samoans, and Tongans. Deliberately averted in the second volume of Hawaiian Dick, which instead focuses on a generic mob war between mainland Mafia and Irish factions.
  • If you live near the border, you better watch out for The Cartel or Ruthless Foreign Gangsters that speak Spanish.
  • The rural United States in general will feature Outlaw Bikers (see the international section below), Hillbilly Moonshiners (though the latter trope is gradually dying out) and the occasional Southern-style mobster. Their more respectable counterpart (and sometimes competitor) will be a Small-Town Tyrant (potentially a Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit), who will typically hold a respectable position in society (as sheriff, mayor, judge, county commissioner, or simply the richest businessman in the area) that he exploits shamelessly to run all manner of rackets.
  • Stories set in American Prisons may likely portray the Aryan Brotherhood or other similar Neo-Nazi/white-supremacist gangs. Despite making up less than 1% of the US prison population, they're responsible for almost a quarter of murders there, so expect them to portrayed as very fearsome antagonists towards any unlucky inmates who cross paths with them. Occasionally, Neo-Nazi gangsters might be found outside of prison, and are not any less ruthless.

Non-American or International

  • The UK has the inescapable London Gangster, as well as The Yardies to add some ethnic flavour. In older works, The Irish Mob and Kosher Nostra may make an appearance. In newer ones, it'll be The Mafiya, or its counterparts from other Eastern European countries such as Serbia or Albania.
  • France has several milieux, historically dominated by the Corsican Mob (which Anglo-Americans named Union Corse), particularly in Marseille. More recent works will feature various ethnic gangs from the banlieues on the outskirts of big cities, which have gradually eclipsed the old Corsican milieu, and will typically be either North African (especially in Marseille and other Mediterranean cities) or Eastern European (especially in Paris). And then there are the Belgian gangs in the North who specialize in heists.
  • Italy, of course, has the Mafia. The terminology will vary from place to place, however: only in Sicily is organized crime properly referred to as "the Mafia." The Neapolitan version is called the Camorra, which will be portrayed as more refined and concerned with showing a respectable face, though no less cutthroat. The Calabrian version is called the Ndrangheta, considered more rural, crude, and unsophisticated, but also the most terrifyingly efficient mob in the country, and, arguably, the continent.
  • Ireland naturally has The Irish Mob. They've only been present on the Emerald Isle since the 60s unlike their American counterparts but nevertheless, they are still rather prominent in the country.
  • Roguish Romani, at least stereotypically, will feature across Europe in general, though the farther east the setting, the likelier they are to appear.
  • In more recent decades, Muslim immigrant gangs may also make an appearance throughout Europe (though mainly in the west). Broadly speaking, they're likely to be Turkish in Germany, North African (Algerian/Moroccan/Tunisian) in France, and South Asian (Pakistani/Bangladeshi) in the UK.
  • Russia is well-known for its own native Mafiya. For ethnic variety, said Mafiya may consist of Tatars, Ukrainians, Chechens, Jews, and other prominent minorities of Russia. Similar Mafiya groups also exist throughout the rest of the former Soviet Union too, and are quite ethnically diverse.
  • Obviously enough, Chinese gangs like The Triads and the Tongs operate mostly in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and several other countries (mostly in Southeast Asia) which have a large enough Chinese diaspora. While criminal gangs do exist in Mainland China, they're nowhere near as powerful as their counterparts in other places, due to the Communist government cracking down on Triad-style secret societies ever since they took power in 1949.
  • Japan has the infamous Yakuza. There are also the (far less notorious) Japanese Delinquents and the more obscure color gangs (essentially Japanese-flavored Gangbangers).
  • Many Latin American nations will have The Cartel, but most especially Colombia (particularly in works set in The '80s) and Mexico (The '90s and more recently). In older works set between The Wild West and The Mexican Revolution, Mexico will have Banditos; other Latin American nations may as well, whether or not it's historically accurate.
  • Brazil has a Portuguese-flavored version of the Gangbangers who can be found in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro and São Paulo and a couple of other cities.
  • Although rarely depicted in fiction outside of Prohibition, Canada has its own homegrown criminal underworld comprised of Italians, Irish, and Indians as well as occasionally the likes of Chinese, French, and Afro-Canadians. If you do find the Mafia in the Great White North, they are commonly found in Ontario or Quebec. Biker gangs are also commonly found in those two provinces, especially from The '90s onwards due to the notorious Quebec biker war and the massive recruitment drive in Ontario at the time.
  • Israel unsurprisingly has the Kosher Nostra, given its large Jewish majority; and due to having a large community of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, The Mafiya also has a significant presence in the Israeli criminal underworld. You'll hear them speaking Hebrew or Russian as opposed to Yiddish in this country. Sometimes, Israeli/Palestinian Arabs will also be seen as members of various criminal gangs and syndicates.
  • India has a rather distinct history of organized crime. Contemporary works will often feature gangsters based on the infamous D-Company, while period pieces often feature bandits like the Dacoits (like in Sholay) or Thuggees (not like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
  • Eastern Europe has its fair share of gangsters involved in human trafficking and other criminal operations. If you encounter them, you better speak Serbian or Albanian just to avoid trouble. You might even hear Romanian, Bulgarian and Montenegrin if you go deep into the former Eastern Bloc.
  • Turkey has a localized version of the Mafia which is every bit as ruthless as their Eastern European counterparts. Most gangs are Turkish, but knowing Kurdish or Persian in Istanbul wouldn't hurt.
  • Iran is more period-specific, with the mid 20th century's urban outfits being more like the London Gangster than anything else and most operations past The '90s being Gangbangers. The more upscale mobsters are usually out of reach, and usually tied to the authorities. Along the western border, expect to find (mostly Kurdish) smugglers who usually keep it clean, only bringing in goods that are too heavily taxed or pointlessly banned. Around the southwest and the Hormoz Strait islands, the gangs will be much more aggressive, and will likely speak Arabic (although not necessarily as a first language). The eastern border doesn't exactly have an "underworld" as it's sparsely populated, extremely underdeveloped and right next to two of the world's most nastily war torn and terrorist-infested countries, so some parts are outright Cartel Land, overrun by opium runners with occasional terrorist connections. In older works, any area outside the big cities is home to a Bandit Clan or two.
  • Biker gangs are almost always portrayed in Western United States settings, especially in rural areas. However in real life, outlaw motorcycle clubs are active all over the USA, Canada, Europe, much of Asia, and especially Australia and New Zealand.