Andrea Kosar

By Susan Bean Aycock

Multicultural, Multilingual & Millennial CEO

Andrea Kosar knows a thing or two about navigating different cultures: by the time she graduated from Baylor University, she had lived in two countries, spoke four languages and attended 14 schools. President and CEO of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since May of 2022 – and its first female leader in the organization’s 48-year history – she now puts that personal experience to use advocating for and promoting Waco’s Hispanic community.

Daughter of a U.S. military father and a Paraguayan mother, she admits that in Waco, Texas, she’s a bit of a cultural hybrid. “When I came to Waco [to attend Baylor University] from Florida in 2013, there were no people with a similar cultural background to me,” she said. “The food that I had grown up with in a Hispanic community in Florida just wasn’t available. That has changed a lot in the last few years.

“Waco’s minority populations are growing at a rapid pace; about 33% of recorded citizens are Hispanic, with about 25% in households that speak a language other than English at home,” she said. “Another 21% is Black, with 42% Anglo and the remaining 4% mixed ethnicities.”

But, she stresses, even the “Hispanic” part of the Chamber’s name doesn’t mean that the organization is just for or about the Hispanic community. “As an organization, we have a lot of doors open to us, and we’re thinking creatively about how to share all of our opportunities and keep forging strong relationships,” she said. “We’re open to everyone, and we can all work together. In fact, the Chamber’s motto is ‘Juntos Podemos! Together We Can!’”

Wacoan writer Susan Bean Aycock spoke with Kosar about cultural identity, challenging stereotypes, running a non-profit in tough economic times and building bridges between all Waco communities.

WACOAN: Where did you grow up and how did your childhood shape you?

Andrea Kosar: When I’m asked where I’m from, sometimes I’m still trying to figure out where that is. I was born in Hillsboro, but I grew up all over the place. I lived in Bolivia from about three months to three or four years old, but I was really too young to remember it. My maternal relatives are mostly still in Paraguay and my mother grew up in Argentina and Paraguay. She speaks English, Spanish and Guarani (Paraguay’s second official language to Spanish). My dad is fluent in English and Spanish. My caregiver in Bolivia spoke Quechua (an indigenous mountain language) and as a kid, I mixed up all my languages. When I moved back to the U.S. as a preschooler, nobody could understand me. I remember being embarrassed about my inability to speak well, and I read and read to get my English down; we spoke both English and Spanish at home. I ended up being really quiet until I was 10 or 11 – but once I started becoming more comfortable talking, my parents say I never quit!

I lived in Tennessee twice; in Alabama, and Florida three times. I went to high school in Fort Myers, Florida, so I consider that my hometown though I’ve lived in Waco longer than anywhere else at this point – 10 years. I went to 14 schools by the time I graduated from Baylor and I remember what it was like to be the new kid and to be excluded. I moved to Waco in 2013 when I transferred to Baylor after spending the first years of college at Florida Gulf Coast University. I graduated from Baylor with a major in Journalism and concentrations in both Public Relations and Education.

I remember what it felt like to struggle with the embarrassment of not being able to speak the language, and as CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, I try to build a culture where no matter what your proficiency in whatever language, you feel comfortable. People can feel less than if their English or Spanish isn’t perfect but there should be no shame in however you speak. We try to make our opportunities as inclusive as possible to all communities and all businesses that we promote, not just the Hispanic community.

WACOAN: What’s your career path been like and what are you most proud of? What’s been the biggest challenge?

Kosar: Professionally, I’ve dabbled in a lot of different things, and I’m grateful for that because it’s given me a well-rounded knowledge to better represent the trials and tribulations of small business owners. I’m a former news anchor for Channel 25 [KXXV] here in Waco, where I co-anchored the morning news and solo-anchored the mid-day show. I’ve also done marketing and public relations full-time and dabbled in property management, where I was the assistant property manager for 55 properties in Austin. At Channel 25, I co-anchored the news, did a solo segment, worked as a reporter and filled in as a producer – it was several hours a day of focusing on hard news. It was sometimes a struggle to talk about the worst things happening first thing in the morning. One news story that really affected me was the Midland-Odessa shootings in 2019, where I had to constantly update horrific details. I really wanted to focus on the positive, and ended up creating a new weekly segment, Positively Central Texas, on organizations and businesses doing good in the community.

One of the most challenging parts of being a journalist the past few years is that like a lot of young women, I’ve dealt with the toxic background of a newsroom mentality of the ‘80s, when things were tough for women and the old guard thought that you should still have it tough. People sometimes ask me if I miss the news. I loved being a news anchor but now I get to do what I loved most about that without the crazy deadlines and 3 a.m. start time!

WACOAN: What do you enjoy most about being the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber? What’s challenging about it?

Kosar: I love bringing a focus on small- and medium-sized businesses to different audiences. We have a number of partnerships in the community to make Waco a better place. We work a lot with the City of Waco, Baylor [University], the SBDC [Small Business Development Center] and our other local chambers. We’re really excited to work with United Way, as they lead the Child Well-Being movement. They’ve put a lot of research behind their focus areas for improving the well-being of children and families in Waco. We’re also very excited to partner with the City of Waco to support small business and to make housing accessible and affordable. Our partnership with Baylor is also exciting; they’re working hard to support more MWBEs [Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises]. We’ve been meeting with the Greater Waco Chamber and Cen-Tex African American Chambers of Commerce to connect on what economic development in Waco means for each of our chambers and what the development of the industrial training center could mean for Waco.

Looking ahead, what’s challenging is that everyone has a different idea of how a chamber of commerce should be run and what we should be doing. But one thing about our team of three and our board is that we all share a passion for boosting local businesses and advocating for the Hispanic community. We have a really innovative team. Dytrun and Eric don’t shy away from inventing new ways to adapt to quickly changing times. That’s Dytrun Thirkill, vice president of operations, who’s been with the chamber about 10 years, and Eric Terrazas, director of economic development, who came on about the same time I did. Since two-thirds of our staff – Eric and I – are pretty new in our positions and we’re a young staff age-wise, there’s some underestimation about our ability to understand what we’re doing. Dytrun knows our members through and through, and gives our team a good balance. We’re also working to have fresh ideas to be able to see things from a new perspective. The Hispanic Chamber will turn 50 in 2025, and as we’ve been moving offices, I’ve been going through boxes and finding so much history, so many awards and recognition of the folks who went before us. After the pandemic, the whole structure of business and professionalism changed. There’s more room for creativity and thinking outside the box.

With inflation, everything is more expensive and Waco is growing at such a rapid rate. We give businesses so many resources to stay afloat, but we’re a non-profit organization hit by the same rate of inflation – and as we try to provide a shield for those businesses, we need people to care for and support us too. We have a super hard-working team and our doors are open; there’s a role everyone can play to support the business community. There’s a misconception out there that because we have the word ‘Hispanic’ in our name, you have to be a Hispanic-owned business to be a part of what we’re doing. Our model is very inclusive.

WACOAN: How is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forging relationships in the Waco community?

Kosar: The Hispanic Chamber stands on three pillars, the ABCs of advocacy, business and culture. In advocating, we want to make sure we’re pitching positive stories to the media, to navigate what being Hispanic means in Waco. There are still stereotypes to dispel. We want to give Hispanic community members a seat at the table so they can step into decision-making roles.

On the business side, we focus heavily on economic development. We have an interest in seeing the LaSalle Corridor developed, and revamping 25th Street, where many Hispanic-owned businesses are now located. Our joint collaborative program with the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce is called ‘Starbridge’ – which comes out of our two logos: ours is the bridge and theirs is the star. It all goes to the point that we’re stronger together coming together as minority communities, which then become a majority community. The pandemic had its own challenges, but that commonality of what we were all facing helped solidify the alliance between the Waco Hispanic Chamber and African American Chamber, because we were all going through the same things.

Culturally, we want to make sure Hispanic culture is represented as widely as possible, not just Hispanics from Mexico but from Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay and the many other cultures here in Waco. Every Spanish-speaking country has its own culture that looks a little different from the next. And of course, there are many areas where economic development meets culture.

The Día de los Muertos event [Day of the Dead festival and parade held on Oct. 29, 2022] was such a pivotal event – it was held right downtown where the heart of the Hispanic business and residential areas were historically located, right by Indian Spring Middle School on Calle Dos. Urban Renewal changed that. And now, not everyone can afford to head back to downtown Waco with prices going up so much. As we make improvements, like on 25th Street, we want to keep those cultural partnerships – we’re not looking to whitewash the cultural history and we don’t want to gentrify anything, but keep and celebrate its cultural identity.

We’re also committed to being in the community. Since January 1, the chamber has a new location at 25N Coworking Space at 510 Austin Ave., a cooperative working space. We’re excited to be more active in our members’ restaurants and shops and want to put every effort into being out in the community as much as possible. If a business is willing to open its doors to us through becoming a member, we want to bring the community with us to learn more about their space, programs and products.

WACOAN: Sometimes the language can be confusing. Can you explain the difference between the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino?’

Kosar: The term ‘Latino’ is geography-based while ‘Hispanic’ is language-based. The term ‘Hispanic’ means coming from a Spanish-speaking country, which includes Spain and most of South America, but not countries like Brazil or Guyana, where Spanish isn’t the primary language. ‘Latino’ would include all of Latin America: Mexico, Central America and all of South America. The term ‘Latinx’ is also used as a more inclusive option, instead of Latino or Latina. Spain is Hispanic because they speak Spanish there, but it’s not Latino/Latinx. Sometimes people in the U.S. think that while America is a melting pot, all other countries are homogenous, but they’re not. For example, Paraguay had a large Korean population for a long time. Argentina has many Italians and Germans. Central American countries like Panama have Afro-Latinx and Asian populations.

WACOAN: What are some of your personal experiences navigating two distinct cultures, U.S. and Paraguayan?

Kosar: My husband, Hunter, and I had our wedding in Paraguay and we planned our honeymoon at Iguazu Falls [the massive waterfall that sits on the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay]. Ten family members came with us on our honeymoon, and I told Hunter, ‘Welcome to a Hispanic family!’ Seeing my family navigate Covid in a third-world country was really difficult, since they didn’t have access to many things we did, like Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Vaccines were second-rate, or not available, and if you wanted to come to the U.S. to get vaccinated, you had to have a passport, visa, money and time off to get here. In 2021, Covid was really bad and most of my family came down with it during one of the worst spikes. We ended up creating a Go Fund Me page for my Tío [Uncle] Mario. He got admitted to a private hospital but unfortunately didn’t make it, though we were able to use the money we’d collected to help with hospital and funeral costs. His son Eduardo, my cousin, came with other relatives to the U.S. to get a vaccine and stayed with us for nearly three months. He’s an incredible chef – he was even invited to be on Master Chef Paraguay – and now owns a pizzeria called Artesano in Asunción, Paraguay, that my husband and I are investors in.

WACOAN: What makes Waco special and how do we bring up the next generation to keep it that way?

Kosar: It’s such a strong community that breaks down all barriers. In the hardest of times, Wacoans really step up and pitch in. I’ve lived in Waco longer than anywhere else in my life before transferring to Baylor in 2013. Waco is a community like no other. I lived in Austin twice, but I kept coming back to Waco. This community is really resilient and collaborative – it comes together in times of crisis. Even when there isn’t a crisis, you see collaboration between unlikely groups: arts and business, sports and planet-conscious organizations. A lot has been spear-headed by Fiona Bond, executive director of Creative Waco. This type of collaboration is a lot of what keeps me here.

To bring up our next generation of leaders, we need to keep our best and brightest in Waco. Until fairly recently, there were just not many opportunities for young people – they’d graduate and move to Dallas or Austin to find jobs. Now we’re seeing younger and younger people run organizations, serve on boards [of directors] and connect with mentors or even become mentors. I’m very excited about that.

WACOAN: What are some of the biggest challenges that face the Hispanic Chamber?

Kosar: The most obvious answer is inflation. Staffing is also hard – large businesses come to Waco with competitive pay and benefits and opportunities with packages like working from home. We aim to cut through the noise of networking; it used to be that everyone looked forward to one event and all new businesses were competing for the same referrals. Now we offer floating opportunities to bring networking to your business

WACOAN: You’re a Millennial – the term for people born between the late ’80s and late ‘90s. What stereotypes do you fight as a Millennial and in general?

Kosar: When I graduated from Baylor, I saw a Facebook post about how lazy Millennials are, disrespectful, playing on their phones during job interviews. That narrative was so hurtful and wrong. When I graduated from Baylor, I didn’t have a penny to my name – no phone, no car, no place to live. Life was really difficult; I felt fortunate to have my BU degree but even with that, it wasn’t so easy to make it. I see this new generation of business owners extending a hand to recent [college] graduates with their new ideas, and I’m so encouraged. There’s a very positive effort to keep talent in Waco.

There are other assumptions that people make about me, and I wonder if it’s because I’m young, female or Hispanic. As a young CEO, sometimes I have to take a wrench to open doors. But I am beyond grateful to those who have never treated me differently or made me feel like I have to prove myself. There’s so much of an educational element to my job, explaining different cultures in general. For instance, I don’t like spicy food, which is a fairly new thing in Paraguay with the rise of Mexican restaurants there. People sometimes apply what they know about Mexican culture to all Hispanic cultures, but there are huge differences – in language and accent, as well as cultural practices.

WACOAN: What are three words your friends would use to describe you?

Kosar: My friends would probably describe me as courteous, passionate and inclusive. I try to be as intentional as possible about not letting others feel excluded. I think I’m a relatively chill person, but when I see injustice, I get really heated. My tía and madrina [aunt and godmother] has the same personality as I do and she’s a lawyer. Advocacy runs in the family!

WACOAN: You’re a small business owner yourself. Tell me more about that.

Kosar: My husband and I have a freight brokerage called Twisted Nail, where we middle-man the construction transactions for large construction projects dealing with aggregates. We source dirt, rocks and sand and connect trucking companies to haul the material in large quantities to the construction project. We’re kind of the Costco of dirt, sand and gravel.

Our staff consists of my husband Hunter, my mother-in-law and her husband, my brother-in-law and friends. It’s more than just a business – it’s the livelihood of family and friends. The mindset of a small business owner has to be that we make decisions for the business as a whole, and you make sacrifices first. Our expertise is the digital marketing side. A lot of quarries aren’t listed and we support owner-operators and trucking companies by heavily marketing their services and products and finding the projects for them.

WACOAN: What do you hope for Waco in the next five to ten years?

Kosar: I hope Waco continues to have individuals and organizations who collaborate with industries and organizations that are either similar to or totally different from their own. It’s an exciting time when you can be a chamber of commerce working alongside other local chambers of commerce collaboratively, or when you can see the arts community collaborate with the business sector and vice versa. We’ve also seen a multigenerational approach to building up Waco in the 2020s. There are longtime Waco leaders working with leaders in their mid- to late- 20s and early 30s. I hope we see a thriving, diverse talent pool of individuals and business owners working together as well.

The Hispanic community in Waco is what I am most excited about, because we aren’t a monolith. The Hispanic community is so diverse both globally and here in Waco, Texas. Not every Hispanic or Latino in Waco comes from Mexico, and one country’s customs and traditions are very different from the next. Even within Mexico, each of their states and regions are totally different when it comes to cultures, food and traditions. I would love to see Waco celebrate more of the different cultures represented.