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Osvaldo Alonso gives local face to changing Cuban-American relations

The Honey Badger is going to see his father again. It will be the first time in eight years.

Jane G Photography

Soccer is a powerful tool to learn about geopolitics and sociology. With World Cups being sent to South Africa, Russia and Qatar the message of FIFA is -- at least in theory -- as much about drawing attention to these non-traditional soccer places, with all their challenges, as it is about making a handful of old men a lot of money. Here in Seattle, Cuban refugee and American citizen Osvaldo Alonso helps us peek into Cuban-American relationships.

Alonso is going to see his father for the first time in eight years. It is a time of immense joy for defensive midfielder.

Seattle is far away from the island nation. Restored relations with the former ally, but more recent antagonist, are something that is not personal for many in Puget Sound. This is not South Florida with generations staring across a small slice of ocean wondering how their families are doing. Without Ozzie, Cuban-American relations are mostly a thought experiment for policy wonks.

But with such a popular player who escaped Castro to ply his trade in a nation that adopted him, we get a tiny window into distant policy situations. Prior to swearing allegiance to the United States Alonso was a refugee.

Throughout Europe, and in pockets of North America, banners at soccer games state "refugees are welcome." Those issues are thousands of miles away.

Soccer, through watching games in Europe, through hosting players that have escaped (Alonso, Gallindo), through facing teams in drug-torn cities in Honduras and Mexico, can help us open our eyes and hearts to issues that would instead be consigned to the nightly news or a social meme.

As we use the sport we love to avoid our personal realities, it also allows abstract political situations to feel more visceral. Through soccer we are opened up to Cuba-American relations, mental health of the homeless in Pioneer Square, childhood cancer, workers rights in the Persian Gulf and Russia's ascendancy in its former satellite states.

Reality can be harsh, but the times when the Sounders and soccer can remind us that together we can make the world better are wonderful. Through soccer we met Electron Boy, Xander Bailey, Osvaldo Alonso, my friend Lara and many others. Soccer helps make the issues of our day human, and local.

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