Daniel Rito says Saint John ‘wasn’t even on my radar,’ but now can’t imagine living anywhere else
By Darcy Rhyno
It’s family that brought Daniel Rito to Saint John, New Brunswick, and it’s family and a welcoming community that he says will keep him here.
Growing up in Mexico City, Rito always dreamed of getting to know other cultures. School and work gave him the opportunity. Education took him to the United Kingdom where he spent two years in Liverpool before moving on to study in Spain and Portugal. Later, he went to work for a Spanish publishing house with a territory that included all of Latin America.
From the time he spent in the U.K., Rito became fluent in English, so one evening back in Mexico, when he heard a woman speaking the language at a concert, he started a conversation with her. He and his wife, Jennifer, have been together ever since. They now have a six-year-old daughter, Julia, who Rito hopes will find the same opportunities in Saint John as he has.
Saint John wasn’t always home for the couple. Jennifer lived in Mexico for several years even before they met. Together, they gave Mexico City a try. In fact, their daughter was born there. When Jennifer’s father got sick, the couple decided to return to Canada, but they were already finding Mexico City—home to nearly 9,000,000 people—a difficult place to live. Rito says life there is chaotic.
“I would leave the house at seven o’clock in the morning,” Rito says, “and come back seven or eight at night, driving for up to three hours. It wasn’t an ideal situation to raise a kid.”
As a new mother, Jennifer had the support of Rito’s family, but, he says, “It’s not the same as having your own family.” The move wasn’t without its challenges, he says. “Adjusting from large cities like Mexico City to a small community like Saint John, it is a culture shock. But because I lived in different smaller communities, I knew the difference, so I could appreciate more this type of life.”
In contrast to life in one of the world’s largest cities, Saint John offers more time for their family of three and for community activities.
“Here, I’m five minutes away from my office, my house, and school.”
Rito is learning that living in a small community has advantages he hadn’t anticipated. Because Jennifer grew up in Saint John, they spend a lot of time at her mother’s “camp,” which is really a house on a lake where she now lives full-time.
“Something I didn’t know I would appreciate that much is the water,” Rito says. “It’s great to jump in the car and in 15 minutes be in the outdoors, at the beach, or in a park.”
Another benefit is the sense of security for himself and his family. “Any big city has safety issues,” he says. “There are places I wouldn’t walk in Spain, Portugal, or the U.K., and especially Mexico City. I definitely like the size of this community.”
The size of the city also fits with Rito’s civic interests. “I’m a community builder. Because the community is small enough, you can make a difference, even if you’re a newcomer.”
In fact, it’s exactly because he’s a newcomer that Rito has found his place, both personally and professionally. “I like the city’s multiculturalism,” he says. “Definitely being able to talk, to work, and to play with people from different cultures, I really enjoy.”
Rito’s motivation to make a difference to his community led him to his first job and then his current role. Although he struggled to find work when he arrived, he eventually landed a position with the YMCA where he took on the job of manager of newcomer programming. The role combined his interest in cultural diversity, his drive to give back, and his passion for community building.
From the Y, he moved into his current role, director of growth with Envision Saint John. Envision came about when three previous tourism and economic development offices where combined.
“We are the sales and marketing agency, but we also look after economic development,” Rito says. “I work on population growth and retention in the region and manage the talent file. They go hand-in-hand. Basically, I’m helping companies that arrive here to get connected to the right talent, and I attract the right talent to the region.”
When he’s not at work, Rito has found other ways to give back and to help grow his adopted community. He sits on three local boards, including an arts organization and a community centre. The third is an organization he helped create, Red Latin Southwest New Brunswick.
“Red means network,” Rito says. “We wanted to create a network.” It all started at a barbecue where immigrants from Mexico were getting together. He and a friend created a WhatsApp chat group for those attending the event. Today, that group has 200 members of Latin American heritage from St. Andrews to Sussex. Rito and others evolved the chat group into an organization.
“I did it so my daughter would be more exposed to Latin American culture and the Spanish family,” he says. “We have programs like reading at the library for little ones and meet-and-greets with the community. Anything I can do to support others, I am definitely game for that.”
Saint John is a long way from Mexico City, but Rito finds himself feeling more and more at home, even as he works hard to help others share his sense of community. Rito says that before he met his wife, he had never given New Brunswick or Atlantic Canada a thought.
“It wasn’t even on my radar.”
At first, because he was unfamiliar with the region, Rito resisted moving to Saint John. He and his wife even considered Montreal or Toronto because they are larger centres within easy reach of both their families.
“But now that we’re here, it would take a lot for us to choose another community in Canada,” Rito says. “Now that we’re here, why would we go somewhere else? Maritime culture is warm, welcoming, and helpful. It’s a nice life.”