B.C. refugee advocate gives voice to youth

December 28, 2015

By Andrea Woo, Globe and Mail |

The Globe’s B.C. bureau is profiling 10 young people aged 20 and under who are doing great things in fields ranging from arts to science to activism. Today, Diego Cardona advocates for immigrant and refugee youth in B.C.

Diego Cardona watches Canada’s Syrian refugee plan unfold from a unique position: 10 years ago, he and his family set foot in Canada as refugees themselves, looking to carve out a future after fleeing their native Colombia.

He knows all too well how difficult it will be for some to learn English, not having spoken a word of it himself when he, his mother and sister first arrived in 2005. He is aware of the discrimination some newcomers will face. And he knows that a shift in responsibilities, from parents to children, will mean tremendous stress for many refugee youth.

At 19, Mr. Cardona has become a vocal advocate for immigrant and refugee youth. Drawing from his own experiences, he informs decision makers and helps give voice to young people through his work with the Vancouver Foundation’s Fresh Voices Youth Advisory Team and the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.

He has been bolstered by the positive response, he said.

“We do a lot of advocacy, which means bringing forward the feedback from our community and some of the struggles that people are facing,” Mr. Cardona said.

“But at Fresh Voices, we also always try to recognize the fact that as we approach government and institutions that migrant youth interact with, the response has always been positive. There has always been space for conversation and dialogue.”

One issue that Mr. Cardona identified through experience is a shift in the burden of responsibilities from non-English-speaking parents to children, who can be quicker to adapt and learn the local language.

“We are the ones who do the interactions with schools, we’re the ones who talk to the banks and phone companies, we’re the ones who talk to the hydro company,” he said. “There is a shift in that burden of responsibility that becomes, in many cases, a mental health struggle for young people. It becomes a struggle because there are no supports available to help balance their school lives, their [social life] and their responsibilities as head of the family.”

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