Commentary: How MLS in Austin can open the door to civic opportunities

There has been a lot of discussion about the finances involving the MLS soccer deal before the Austin City Council. Is it economically good for Austin? How much are Precourt and MLS paying to Austin? How much low-income housing space is being provided? Who is paying for transportation in and out of the stadium?

I have a question to our City Council: Do you know what has been lost in the discussion?

How soccer can potentially positively impact our Hispanic community.

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Before I am attacked as an outsider or worse, let me back up: I am born and raised in Austin. Not the Austin most of you readers know — but the Austin that spoke Spanish, lives east of Interstate 35, and has been playing soccer long before MLS came knocking. I went to school at Palm Elementary, Mendez Middle School, Kealing Jr. High, and the LBJ Science Academy. I graduated from the University of Texas before departing for the Army. I began playing soccer at the YMCA and then moved into the club system, beginning with the Austin Flyers, Austin Chaps, and Austin Capitals. I am Austin, and I want MLS — but not for the reasons you think.

I believe that soccer can open doors for kids just like me. Soccer helped me cross from East Austin and South Austin to West Austin. It helped me see a different part of Austin that I had never experienced. What may seem “normal” to many of you was not to me — and is not now to many Hispanic kids. I never attended a UT football game as a kid. My father did not take me to alumni events on campus. My parents were not part of the Rotary or Lions clubs or the other organizations that shape West Austin. I experienced West Austin because I earned a youth soccer scholarship with a soccer club composed mostly of Westlake families.

BRIDGET GRUMET: Girls deserve same perks as boys in Austin’s MLS stadium deal.

Austin agreeing to a deal with MLS will open an area of Austin that is traditionally not open to kids from East Austin.

I am a resident of District 7. The district is only 22.4 percent Hispanic, according to 2010 census data. I am part of that percentage living in District 7 — and I disagree with my City Council member. I agree that affordable housing is important; green park space is important; and all the other concerns are valid. However, for a city that continues to be very segregated — at a time in our country when the Hispanic and immigrant communities are continuously under attack — Austin has a great opportunity to create unity. MLS will draw people from all over Austin to a part of the city that has not traditionally been accessible to kids from East Austin.

It can inspire kids whose parents have been playing soccer in dirt fields long before Austin had an organized men’s league. And parents who are not city employees or musicians who would qualify or understand how to apply for affordable housing. And parents whose jobs are cleaning homes, cutting grass and doing all the other jobs in Austin that have to get done but that few want to do.

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There are many places where the city can build affordable housing. There are plenty of open spaces that can be converted to parks and recreational areas. There is only one location suitable to Precourt for an MLS franchise stadium. Please approve the MLS partnership deal.

Tristan is an attorney and veteran in Austin.

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