In Loving Memory of Laura Cruz
by Natalie Flores
She wasn’t always Lara Croft. She was originally Laura Cruz, a Latina archaeologist and professional mercenary. She would lead grand adventures of her own as she searched for legendary artefacts from ancient sites all over the world to save the environment.
But Laura Cruz, like the archaic artefacts in the tombs Lara raids, has been all but forgotten and lost to history.
It started with (white) Americans being unable to pronounce Laura. Despite commonly hearing words like dinosaur, thesaurus, the name of the Disney Princess, Aurora—they were unable to enunciate the “aur” in Laura. Laura became Lara. Then, they wanted a British influence to appeal to (white) American and British people. Pages in a phone book were flipped until Cruz was forcibly anglicized into Croft.
And that is the short story of how Laura Cruz became extinct.
As I watch Lara Croft scale an enormous mountain during a blizzard in Rise of the Tomb Raider, I think of this industry. It is an immense mountain women of color work so hard to climb every day, even as the conditions wear us down and make it seem impossible.
It hurts me to think about who Laura Cruz could have been; to think about how the biggest female icon in games could have been not another white woman to get the starring heroine role, but rather a Latina - the first of her kind. She would have been someone who isn’t the premier white female character the industry holds up to demonstrate how progressive it is.
Instead, she would have been someone who could have challenged this industry further. Someone that I and other Latinas could see our whole selves in -- a breath of fresh air since women of color must settle, because women characters of color are rare, and we can’t seem to get both our race/ethnicity and gender represented simultaneously.
I look at Lara Croft’s face and see what could have been there: someone that looked like me; that could have conveyed I was seen by my favorite medium when I was a young girl playing games led by male characters like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, or series like Animal Crossing, in which although I could create my own character, I could not create one that looked like me, for there was no way to change their skin tone.
I must still wonder about the existence of a Latina character having the complexity the Lara Croft of today has come to possess because she simply hasn’t happened yet. Today, I look at celebrated characters like Elena Fisher, Aloy, and Ellie, and I feel a barrier that lets me appreciate them but prevents me from ever fully connecting to them. The only characters I can hold onto are Overwatch’s Sombra – who, due to the nature of her game, will never achieve the depth of the aforementioned women – and the lost remnants of Laura Cruz, who will never be more than a discarded and forgotten concept. ◒