By Nancy Xiong, HIP Organizer
I am sadden by the sudden lost of such a passionate and intelligent young person in Neng Thao. I grew up in the Central Valley and having celebrations by the river is nothing new. When temperatures climbed over 100 degrees, the first thing you want to do is take a dip in the water. No one in our family owned a swimming pool and our community didn’t have a public pool so the river was our only option for water recreation. As much as my siblings and I enjoyed the water, we actually didn’t know how to swim and the few that did were self taught novice swimmers. My parents discouraged us from being near the water and warned us of the ‘dragon’ in the rivers and lakes that would take us away from them. Much of their fear stemmed from close relatives losing young children and teenagers as a result of drowning in lakes and rivers. Years later, as an adult, I am still trying to overcome my fear of being in the water.
I wish tragedies like Neng’s were isolated but the rise in injuries and fatalities coincides with the rise in temperature. Every summer, we hear of family members or community members who suffer this same tragic fate. More often than not, these individuals come from low income communities of color. This is not a coincidence. Many of the neighborhoods we live in lack safe quality recreational spaces. Our young people do not have the resources to sign up for private swimming lessons. Access to community pools are often limited because of local budget cuts or located on the “other side” of town inaccessible by public transit. These tragedies are not separate from the conditions of our neighborhoods and the lived environments our young people endure on a daily basis. Moreover, river drownings are entirely preventable but outreach and education are poorly financed and rarely target communities of color. We cannot and should not ignore this reality.
This fall, Neng was suppose to attend UC Berkeley and join the Cal Bears family. He was a youth advocate in Fresno and dedicated his young life to fighting for his community. All the HIP organizers are heartbroken but we can’t imagine the pain his parents and family must be going through. To help cover the cost of Neng Thao’s funeral, HIP will be contributing to the family’s GoFundMe. Please join us in helping lift the burden for his family in this time of need.
Rest in Power, Neng.