The following was written by Major Chris Heatherly of the United States Army, about an amazing dyslexic woman whom he met while he was in Mexico.

Overcoming Dyslexia – One Woman’s Strength

An estimated 10% of the American populace has dyslexia. Thankfully, recognition of the disability and support mechanisms has increased over time. What is often overlooked, however, is that dyslexia knows no borders. A key difference, however, is the level of access to treatment and support groups available for dyslexics outside the United States. Despite potentially fewer options for treatment, many dyslexics find ways to overcome this disability. This is the story of one amazing woman, who found her own inner strength, and freedom, in her battle with dyslexia.

Senora Gris Suarez is an artist who works and lives in Cozumel, Mexico. She is also dyslexic. I had the privilege to meet her at an artisans’ market during a family vacation to Cozumel, Mexico. Christmas was rapidly approaching and I opted to purchase a beautifully handmade picture album, which Gris offered to personalize with the dates of our trip. While waiting, Gris and I talked about her life and challenges with dyslexia. I found her story very compelling and literally ran to grab my journal to capture her words.

Like many dyslexics, Gris found school a particularly challenging and intimidating environment. Her teachers labeled her as slow and stupid – doubly so, given she is also left-handed. Gris’ family, however, was supportive and encouraged her “to be the best with what you chose in life.” Recognizing that traditional education was difficult and counterproductive, Gris’ father asked what career she wanted to pursue after school. Gris said she wanted to be an artist. Her father enrolled Gris in a five-year program at the Escuela De Arte (School of the Arts) Celaya. She thrived in this new environment, developing her innate artistic talent. (Gris relayed that Mexican schools have improved in their treatment of dyslexic students, with teachers demonstrating more patience and being less apt to label them as unintelligent or lazy.)

After graduation, Gris began her career working in a woodshop making crosses and similar wares and selling them at local resorts. When her partner retired, she taught herself to use aluminum as a new medium. It was not an easy transition, as aluminum is more expensive and difficult to work with. Gris said, “I had cuts all over when I began, but I love aluminum now.” The beauty of her work speaks for itself. Gris later met fellow artist and photographer Senor Edgar Mendoza. They married in 2001 and have a studio in their home. Gris continues to sell her art at various Cozumel resorts.

The ancient Roman poet Horace once wrote, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” How we chose to respond to adversity speaks to our own individual strength. Clearly, Senora Gris Suarez found the will to confront, and overcome her dyslexia through art. As we wrapped up the interview, I asked Gris what was the most important thing about being an artist. She put down her tools, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “I am free. My mind is free. My body is free. Everything in my life is freedom. Libertad!”

The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army.