Hard work is what drove him — from life as an orphan selling cigarettes for a spare buck in Bolivia, from homelessness in Houston, from poverty. Now, Alfredo Mamani is the owner of Hillcrest Inn and several other properties in Kerrville and the surrounding area.
“I wasn’t just waiting for somebody to give me something,” Mamani said. “I had this vision, always, since I became an orphan, that someday, my life had to get better. Somehow, sometime, somewhere. I just didn’t know how or when.”
Mamani’s parents died when he was 9 years old.
While he was born in the city, he was primarily raised in the Andes, where he remained until he was 12. That’s when he said he decided to move to the city for better opportunities.
“I worked in various things — I was selling cigarettes and bubble gums in the restaurants to earn a buck,” Mamani said. “Of course, I would sleep wherever I could sleep. I didn’t have a home until I came to the United States.”
While still in Bolivia, Mamani met a couple of gentlemen who had graduated from Texas A&M University. They connected him with an opportunity to be an athlete in Germany, as he was a fast runner.
But his stint in Germany was brief, and Mamani went back to Bolivia to work during the day and go to high school at night. Little did he know, that wasn’t the end of his running opportunities. The two gentlemen returned to Mamani shortly after he graduated and told him that they would help him try to get an athletic scholarship at Texas A&M.
“(The gentleman said), ‘We think you can make it in the United States,’” Mamani said. “’You are a very honest person, a very hardworking person, and you have a drive. When you want something, you go for it, even if you don’t know. You take the risk.’”
Mamani got a visa and made plans to meet with some Texas A&M representatives in Houston, who would take him to tryouts and potentially arrange for a scholarship. But he never made it to Houston in time, having missed his flight.
“I was delayed by immigration (in Miami),” Mamani said. “It was the Cubans. They started judging me — ‘Why are you here? Why are you here?’ That’s typical.”
He had only $20 in his pocket, he said, and he couldn’t communicate with the taxi driver, who dropped him off somewhere in Houston with a finger pointing toward the car door. It was 9 p.m.
That’s when he spotted a man who he assumed was homeless.
“I figured he didn’t have a home, but he was going somewhere,” Mamani said. “I followed him. He climbed under (a bridge) where there was a railroad. He had under there a home, which was a bunch of cardboard.”
Mamani stayed with the man for two weeks until the man took him to the back of a restaurant to meet his next employer. Mamani got a job as a dishwasher and worked his way up to be the manager. And from then on, he has always been working many jobs.
“I worked in everything, anything that I could get a job in,” Mamani said. “Flipping burgers, cleaning, mopping, shining floors, high schools.”
He said he was often depressed, anxious and unhealthy, but always hopeful. He went to many different states, even traveling to China on electrician business, but remained forever thankful to Houston.
“The city of Houston was my cure, my medicine, my work and the source of my success,” Mamani said.
Mamani turned his sights to Kerrville when his son decided to go to Schreiner University, he said. He has bought several properties, including Hillcrest Inn, which he said he chose simply due to his gut feeling.
Kerrville is a friendly town compared to many that Mamani has lived in, he said, but like other cities, it is not always the most welcoming to immigrants.
“You feel hurt, you feel useless,” Mamani said. “They don’t believe in what you want, they don’t trust you. It’s not the right way to treat people. I think people need to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of color, how you dress, if (your) hair is pink, (you) have a bone in (your) nose or tattoos.”
Mamani added that he has hopes of creating a chamber of commerce for immigrant business owners to help share the knowledge of what makes businesses successful and provide a support system for young entrepreneurs.
Right now, as a fairly new member of the Kerrville community, he is still trying to make connections and get his bearings before jumping into action on the project.