As crisp and enjoyable as beaches, pools, and lakes sound, water activities can unexpectedly turn fatal, especially for minorities. The first time I took my husband (back then, boyfriend) on vacation with my family, we learned just how quickly water could lead to tragedy. In the midst of our lakeside swim, I left the water to get a drink and talked to my cousin on the shore for a few minutes. Mid-conversation, my cousin tells me, “Is your boyfriend drowning?” My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach, as I thought, “Wasn’t he wearing a life jacket?”
Prior to meeting my husband, I took my ability to swim for granted. I had it easy because I spent my childhood closely attached to my grandmother’s pool, whereas my husband lacked pool accessibility.
It turns out that I’m more of an oddball when compared to my husband because many Latinos do not know how to swim. Lack of access to pools is one of the largest contributors as to why minority children are three times more likely than Whites to not know how to swim. Also, as a community, we don’t center outings or activities around bodies of water, which leads to fewer learning opportunities.
The best way to lower the number of drowning victims is to develop our swimming skills. During the months of June, July, and August, extinguish the heat by entering a cool body of water. Giving your family more opportunities to be around water allows youngsters to get down basic strokes like the doggy paddle. These basics can potentially save their life. During these lovely summer outings, remember to never leave people who do not know how to swim unattended, even if they are wearing a life jacket!
Including water activities into your family’s routine will not only build their confidence at the pool and water skills, but it will also keep youth from the humiliation of not knowing how to swim as they get older. The kids in your life don’t want to grow up to be the only adult going to the kiddie pool or dealing with the isolation from their peers by not being able to participate in water activities.
What about the adults in your life that don’t know how to swim? Giving them statistics on how many Latinos do not know how to swim can bring them some comfort, but it may not be enough to encourage them to attend a class. Embarrassment and fear of drowning tend to hold adults back from learning how to swim, but reminding adults about what they miss out on and their inability save someone from drowning may potentially be a motivating factor.
I’ve tried teaching my husband myself and was unsuccessful, so this summer I am reaching out for help. There are organizations working toward educating the six out of ten Latinos, like my husband, who do not know how to swim. The USA Swimming Foundation, The Red Cross and the Y offer affordable classes this summer that are literally and figuratively going to be a lifesaver.