The Power of Perseverance
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted and JJ Kaplan
The story of Zionsville resident Amy Duarte is far from a fairytale but rather an inspiring tale of a woman who was greeted with challenges upon birth and fought her way to a life of success without limitations. Duarte is the epitome of perseverance and courage. She shares her story in hopes of inspiring others who have challenges, disabilities or obstacles to never give up on their dreams and ambitions. All things are possible where there is faith and determination.
Duarte was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she lived with her parents and older brother. At 18 months, her parents knew that something was not right with their daughter. She did not respond to sound.
“Back then, the doctors in Indonesia did not have newborn hearing screenings,” Duarte explained. “So the doctors missed that when I was born. We take that [screenings] for granted, but a developing nation, they don’t have the resources that we do here in the U.S.”
The doctors advised Duarte’s parents to come back when she was 4 for lack of knowing any better or how to treat Duarte.
“Sure enough, my parents took me back to the doctor when I was 4 and confirmed my hearing loss,” she said. “I was behind in language development, and my parents got me powerful hearing aids to assist, but they had to put me in speech therapy. They never gave up on me. I hated speech therapy and didn’t understand why I had to go, but my brother, cousin and friends didn’t. It was one the biggest battles between my mom and I. She had to resort to bribing me with Kentucky Fried Chicken. It really worked. I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Kentucky’ wasn’t one of my first words.”
Durate would continue to have speech therapies over a 12-year period. The issue of schooling and lack of resources in her home country led Duarte’s parents to make a selfless and heartbreaking decision.
“My parents never gave up and would tell me that I had to keep trying,” Duarte said. “I thank them for that, and because of them, I learned the tools of how to be self-sufficient. They had the foresight to know that I had to learn to communicate as it would open more doors for me during my life. Back in Indonesia, the schools would not accept what they considered handicapped children. They would not accept me.”
Out of options, Duarte’s parents sent her out of the country to Montreal, Canada, to stay with her mother’s sister and her family.
“I remember going to the airport, and my parents telling me that they were sorry that there just were no other options,” Duarte recalled. “I told my parents that I would miss them so much, but I knew that what they were doing was out of pure love.”
Duarte was 11 years old when she left for Canada, and rather than falling into despair, she chose to make the best of it. In spite of her hearing deficiency, Duarte had learned to speak Indonesian and English, and due to her surroundings in Quebec, she learned French.
“I learned French from the children’s programs on TV and from being submersed in a culture that was 97 percent French-speaking,” Duarte explained. “How I learn a language is by watching movies with subtitles. I find that the quickest way to learn. You are not only learning what is being said but how it is being said.”
After two years in Canada, Duarte grew quite homesick and flew back to Indonesia to be with her family during summer break. While on break, her father had found a school that was open to meeting Duarte and would consider accepting her admission on the basis that she exhibited hard work and acceptable grades.
“That put a fire under my feet,” Duarte exclaimed. “I did not go back to Montreal, and instead, I worked so hard and did very well. My parents decided to immigrate to the U.S. and moved our family to L.A., California, in 1991. I had just turned 14.”
As a teenager in high school, Duarte learned sign language. She could communicate with both the hearing and the hearing impaired worlds. Rather than finding refuge in a journal, Duarte documented her experiences and expressed her feelings through sketches. Drawing had been her own therapeutic hobby since she was 5.
“My parents bought me the tape of ‘Cinderella’ when I was 5,” she said. “How can you not fall in love with the little mice and Cinderella’s dress? The facial expressions of the mice would make me laugh because they were so animated. That was the spark that made me think to myself that I wanted to create art for the film business one day. Drawing is very therapeutic for me. I show my emotions better through drawing than through my words.”
While she was studying and honing her artistic talent, Duarte continued to learn languages despite her physical limitations. In total, Duarte speaks six languages fluently.
She graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a BA in Fine/Studio Arts, General, in 1999. Her hard work ethic and ambitious thirst for becoming an animator paid off. Duarte began her career as an intern for Walt Disney Animation Studios and would become a layout production assistant there. Growing in her talent and her connections, Duarte rose in the ranks and worked as compositor for companies such as Furious FX where she contributed to the films, “Fever Pitch” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” just to name a few.
Duarte became the lighting technical director for Sony Pictures Imageworks and then as technical director for Industrial Light and Magic where she worked on “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” Her career would take her to other production companies in L.A. Her resume includes other major films like “The Amazing Spider-Man.” She was appointed as a lead artist for several films, including “Fantastic Four,” where she advised and guided a team of artists on creating the special effects of Jessica Alba’s character (Sue Storm). She was also on the design team that created the top-secret commercial for the Apple Watch before the product was launched.
An avid polo player and spectator, Duarte met her husband Max, the brother of Zionsville resident Susana Suarez, at a match in California. Married with two children, it was time for a new chapter – one that led Duarte and her family to Zionsville in 2016 where she is contently raising her children, creating and selling her personal art and enjoying the creative role as motion designer at Avant Healthcare in Carmel.
For more on Amy Duarte’s professional portfolio and art portfolio, visit amyduarte.com.