Cristina Amaya is an expert in the gaming and event space. However, even with more than eight years of experience, she’ll be the first one to confess that she didn’t know this career was possible. Thanks to her dedication and hard work, she’s now the President and founder of Latinx in Gaming, a non-profit whose mission is to connect Latines across the gaming industry to promote cultural appreciation and representation in games and related content.
Before discussing the impact Latinx in Gaming has had in the gaming industry, Amaya sat down with REMEZCLA to talk about her upbringing and unconventional path to gaming. Amaya graduated from Florida State University with three degrees, one of which was a culinary degree that Amaya admits she “never uses.”
Today, Amaya resides in Los Angeles, California, but her first job was in New York City as a social media manager for a gaming company’s marketing department. Amaya stayed in marketing for two years, but she wasn’t working in the gaming division. She recalls her personal experience watching her debt grow while living in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
“For the first few years of my career, I had accumulated a ton of debt just to even be in New York City,” explains Amaya. She remembers feeling petrified watching the credit card debt rise month after month. After a stint in New York City and some time in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, Amaya decided to move to Los Angeles, California.
Through a chance encounter on Twitter, Amaya met two of her Latinx in Gaming co-founders, Elaine Gomez and Juan Vaca. They set out to organize a panel called “Latinx in Gaming: You Belong Here” at The Game Developers Conference (GDC). “That first panel was filled with yelling at each other,” says Amaya. Attendees were fired up as they discussed what made someone a true Latine. Despite this, Amaya recalls the first event as a “sweet moment” where people felt comfortable talking about their experiences and opinions.
If you don’t know what you want to do in gaming, what are you studying right now as a student, and how can you transfer that?
“The whole point of the panel was ‘It’s okay if you don’t speak Spanish. It’s okay if you’re only half. It’s okay if you’re living in Latin America, you know. We accept all Latinos,” she says. Days after the panel, Amaya realized that she would have to be the person to start this organization for her Latine community.
As Latinx in Gaming was first starting, Amaya had her Latine friends join, and soon they had sixty members. Soon after, companies started sponsoring them. They managed to get their non-profit status, and Amaya even registered their LLC. “We always put 110 percent into making sure our partnerships were really seamless,” says Amaya.
Today, the non-profit has between six and seven thousand members.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she says, about the non-profit’s humble beginnings. Right now, all of the members involved with Latinx in Gaming are considered volunteers, meaning they’re unpaid. It’s obviously not ideal, but the work of this organization is pivotal for the growth of Latines in the gaming industry.
“We are one-hundred percent reliant on sponsorship donations,” which is the one thing that holds Latinx in Gaming back, confirms Amaya. Despite these physical limitations, the founders of Latinx in Gaming are determined to keep learning and, honestly, keep failing. “The failures that I have are better learning experiences than my successes,” says Amaya.
Amaya and Latinx in Gaming have been recognized for their outstanding work in the gaming industry. You don’t have to be a Latine in the gaming industry to know that navigating any space where you’re the minority can be challenging. Especially for women. “Being taken seriously as a woman in tech, I’ve noticed, can be really tough. You have to really prove yourself in a way that I think you don’t in other places,” says Amaya.
Often, Amaya questioned, “Do I have to change who I am as a Latina, how I represent myself, and how I come across to make myself more pleasing and comfortable for my white male colleagues?”
Amaya admits that the gaming industry has been challenging at various points in her career, but she looks at these events with a growth mindset. “I don’t want younger Latinas who come into this to have half of the stuff that happened to me happen to them,” states Amaya. “I think it’s my responsibility to make this industry a better place for them,” she says.
3D Model by Mov Studio for RemezclaMaking work environments foolproof to some of the inequalities Latines face in the gaming industry will take time. One of the ways to get started is by supporting organizations like Latinx in Gaming, which had one of its most successful fundraising years in 2020.
Amaya’s social media background led her to plan events, which she says is her true passion. If you boil it down, it’s all about building communities for Amaya. As the Events Leader for Latinx in Gaming, she’s looking forward to their upcoming career fair, Conexion, which will be slightly different from last year’s in that they’re making their workshops mandatory. “I want to make sure that people are sprucing up their stuff,” explains Amaya, which will give applicants a leg up when looking for a job.
Amaya also wants to open up the event to anyone working in tech, even if you’re not Latine. If you’ve ever considered a career in gaming, Amaya welcomes anyone who wants to learn more about the industry.
Suppose you’re reading this right now, unsure how to pivot to gaming. In that case, Amaya suggests asking yourself some questions: “If you don’t know what you want to do in gaming, what are you studying right now as a student, and how can you transfer that? What is something that you’ve always thought would be cool to study?” asks Amaya.
Amaya knows how classist the gaming industry can be. She wants people to realize that you can break in without prior knowledge or connections to this industry. She suggests that if college isn’t an option for you, try to get some hands-on experience. “Feel free to reach out to Latinx in Gaming. We want to help you,” she says.
Even with all of this experience under her belt, Amaya knows she has a long road ahead. She knows how vital it is to have a specific goal in mind. This year, Latinx in Gaming is focused on continuing its mission of providing a centralized hub for all Latine gaming events, spotlighting Latine gaming creators, and fostering careers and mentorships.
‘It’s okay if you don’t speak Spanish. It’s okay if you’re only half. It’s okay if you’re living in Latin America, you know. We accept all Latinos
“I want this company to be able to give people jobs and opportunities that they wouldn’t have had before so that they can enter the industry. I almost want Latinx in Gaming to be a 2-3 year funnel for people. Work here for a couple of years. Sink your teeth into the work, then go get a job at a prestigious company,” says Amaya.
Not only that, Amaya wants outside gaming companies to come to Latinx in Gaming when they’re hiring. Amaya says they’re halfway toward this goal, but “we do not have enough funding to pay everybody.” And right now, Amaya is not into the idea of unpaid labor.
Another way people in positions of power can support Latinx in Gaming is by hiring more Latines. Amaya is vocal about the importance of hiring us in all departments. “You hire Latino vice presidents. You need those decision-makers at the very top,” says Amaya. Without diversity in the boardroom, there really is no room for improvement. The members of Latinx in Gaming are fully aware of this, and they’re taking actual steps toward changing the gaming landscape.
It’s only a matter of time before Amaya is in the boardroom, calling the shots.