Alejandro Bolaños (Chinquapin ‘91) vividly recalls the date he left his native Nicaragua for the US. He was twelve years old and it was his mother’s birthday: November 26, 1983. The family was fleeing the Contras who had taken over the country. Alejandro was just hoping for safety for those he loved, but he found the people and place that would change the direction of his life.
By 1985 the family was reunited in Houston and Alejandro was ready for high school. His father was concerned about Alejandro attending his zoned school because of reports of violence and gang activity. Then his father heard an ad for Chinquapin on a Spanish-language radio station and declared that this was where Alejandro would attend high school. While he was very strong in math, Alejandro’s English was still quite limited at that time. Luckily, Chinquapin faculty members David Bartholome and Pat Lohan were both fluent in Spanish, and so Alejandro was able to share his story when applying for a spot and was accepted into Chinquapin.
Alejandro admits that his first semester was terrible: he hated being away from his parents and his grades suffered. He recalls [former Chinquapin co-director] Bill Heinzerling telling him that he had a lot of potential but was “slacking in English.” The choice was stark: he had to improve his grades or he’d be asked to leave. This was a wake-up call it was intended to be; he buckled down and – in spite of struggling through Shakespeare – he persisted and graduated, one of only six students that year who managed to receive their diplomas.
Alejandro’s status as an asylum seeker led to several college rejections. Paul Teten, a generous Chinquapin board member, stepped in and helped him quickly navigate the immigration process and become a permanent resident. Alejandro was accepted into UT two weeks prior to the start of the semester. Through Paul Teten’s network, Alejandro connected with an Austin family who took him in for the four years he attended UT, where he earned a degree in economics.
After college Alejandro worked as an equity trader, earned a master’s in international finance, and then worked for CEMEX and Continental. Today, Alejandro works for Wallis Bank, recruited to the bank by the CEO. He served several years as the Chinquapin Board of Trustees Treasurer.
Alejandro credits the support he received from [former co-directors] Bill and Kathy Heinzerling, his “American parents”, and the rigorous academic environment for where he is today. He is also grateful for the connections he made here that opened doors for him that would have surely remained closed.