In a film still Film still from Chezik Tsunoda's documentary film, “Drowning in Silence,” a woman in a hat sits on a bench overlooking the water, with a skyline visible in the distance across the water

Water Safety Day Proposed to Bring Awareness to Drowning Prevention

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

At a public hearing for the Washington State Legislature’s Government and Tribal Relations Committee earlier this month, Chezik Tsunoda recalled how it was silent when her 3-year-old son drowned.

“It’s not what you see in the movies at all,” she explained to the committee after she set a photo of her son down in front of her. “It’s life-changing.”

In 2018, Yori was at a friend’s house playing near a pool. Tsunoda says there was no yelling, splashing, or screaming. “It seemed OK,” she says in a video recalling that day. But in a matter of moments — as she looked at a life jacket and then wondered where Yori was — it was already too late. When first responders arrived, Yori wasn’t breathing, but they were able to resuscitate him and take him to Seattle Children’s. Due to the lack of oxygen, he was pronounced brain-dead the next day. 

Now, Tsunoda is a water-safety advocate and founded No More Under, a Black-led nonprofit with the mission of saving lives by preventing drownings through education. She is the main sponsor for HB 1750, otherwise known as Yori’s Law in honor of her son, which would officially designate May 15 as Water Safety Day. On that day, people across the state who work directly with children as young as infants and as old as 18 would be encouraged to provide educational resources around water safety, drowning prevention, and information about swim lesson providers to parents and caregivers. 

At the committee hearing, YMCA of Greater Seattle’s Program Executive of Aquatics Kyle Kamman spoke on behalf of CEO Loria Yeadon in support of the bill. 

“At the YMCA … we provide free safety around the water swim lessons that are focused on self-rescue, water-safety education, and drowning prevention, and we target traditionally underserved communities, and we’re able to do this work thanks to organizations like No More Under,” Kamman said. “It’s imperative we increase water-safety awareness to ensure no more preventable drownings impact our communities and young people.”

Yori sits on a swing, looking off to the side of the camera, against a backdrop of tall trees
HB 1750, otherwise known as Yori’s Law, is in honor of Chezik Tsunoda’s son, Yori. The law would officially designate May 15 as Water Safety Day. (Photo courtesy of Chezik Tsunoda)

In 2020, King County saw deaths by drowning double. According to the County, 33 people died due to drowning, and 70% of those deaths were in open waters. Last year also saw widespread lifeguard shortages across the state, including in Seattle, where only 200 lifeguards were employed compared with 400 in previous years. In a discussion following the introduction of the bill, Rep. Mia Gregerson, a Democrat from SeaTac, said the lifeguard shortage continues to be an ongoing problem.

“I live in SeaTac, and we have a lake called Angle Lake,” she said. “Over the years, it’s been harder and harder to hire lifeguards because the wages can’t keep up, but I think this is another way to really shed light on the issue and to ensure we prioritize water safety.”

In Washington State, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury for infants and teens up to 17 years old. Nationally, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 years old. 

But in Chezik’s own experience and research, drowning hits Communities of Color particularly hard. She points to the pool segregation her grandparents experienced, which trickled down for generations afterward. For her, this issue is about equity. 

“I’ve dedicated the last four years of my life to this; it’s been five since Yori is gone,” Tsunoda said.

On top of founding No More Under, Tsunoda also had her directorial debut at the Santa Barbara Film Festival last year. Her documentary, Drowning in Silence, which documents her grief over Yori and her journey to find out more about childhood drowning, has since been screened at the National Water Safety Conference, the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, and the American Black Film Festival. Drowning in Silence will be streamable on Apple TV and Amazon Prime on May 12.

Bill text points out that victims of drowning tend to be disproportionately Latino or Black, with 45% of Latinos and 64% of Black children either unable to or having a limited capacity to swim, compared with just 40% of white children. 

“Socioeconomic factors also have an impact on disproportionate outcomes,” HB 1750 reads. “Children whose parents are unable to swim often lack the skill as well, and 79 percent of children in households with an income under $50,000 have limited or no ability to swim.”

It also cites that Black children between the ages of 5 and 19 are five times more likely to drown in a swimming pool compared with white children. 

“People just need to know,” Tsunoda said before ending her testimony. “I don’t want anyone else to have to face the loss my family and I have faced.”

The bill has now been referred to the Rules Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a second reading. The bill will need to be approved by the House and the Senate before it becomes law.

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Film still from Chezik Tsunoda’s documentary film, “Drowning in Silence,” out May 12 on Apple TV and Amazon Prime.

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