ROME – Like he has every morning recently, Sandro Rubini woke up this week at his home in Mexico and logged onto the Internet to read the latest news about the global spread of the novel coronavirus.
What he found on the screen came as an “incredible surprise”: a photo of his 70-year-old retired mother Maria, who lives alone in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood with her dog Pepa and has no family in that capital city.
Maria is the neighbor whom I found singing the national anthem at the window of her apartment (located across from mine) during the first days of the lockdown in Italy and who told me about her life and her concern for her son living in Mexico – a feature story EFE published on March 19.
“I’d gone several days without speaking to my mother and I was worried. But a few days ago I suddenly came upon a photo of her on (leading Mexican daily) El Universal’s website,” Sandro told EFE by video call, adding that Maria is too shy to send him photos.
“Like a good son, I think about my mother every day and whether she’s OK, being alone in the country most affected by the virus. And like a good mother, she also thinks about me,” he said from his home in Tulum, a town south of Cancun in Mexico’s southeastern Riviera Maya tourism and resort district.
Rubini, who works as an event organizer, has grown accustomed to being far from his homeland and family. Now aged 35, he lived in Toronto, Dubai and Los Angeles before arriving in Mexico three years ago.
But he said the pandemic is the toughest ordeal he has faced since he left Italy to study abroad, stressing the danger COVID-19 poses to his elderly mother, with whom he speaks regularly.
“During the first week of confinement she was really overwhelmed by all the news coming from northern Italy, but with the latest positive numbers I see that she’s calmer,” Sandro said in perfect Spanish with a Mexican accent.
Maria’s birthday was Wednesday, and she phoned me excitedly to say that “the best present she could have received” was for her son to see her photo in the newspaper.
She added that even though she’s sad he can’t be with her to celebrate her special day the photo has served to bring them closer together.
“You can’t image how thrilled I was that my son came upon that photo,” she said of the image of her holding her dog at the window of her apartment, adding that she had not even realized EFE had taken it and never imagined it would end up on the other side of the ocean.
Mother and son had planned to see one another in the coming months, like they do every year when Sandro returns to Italy and they stay at their home on the coast.
“It’ll be impossible this year. I can’t go back and run the risk of being in a house with my mother,” he said, referring to the greater risk of hospitalization and death for elderly coronavirus patients.
Sandro said the crisis has led to his becoming better acquainted with his neighbors in Tulum – a tourist city now eerily devoid of vacationers. “I’m very grateful to the people of this country. They all did their utmost to help me when my work started to dry up. The people are really special.”
Amid the steep losses in his sector, which depends heavily on Mexico’s now-paralyzed film industry, Sandro is filled with growing concerns about his own future and also that of his adopted country.
“There’s a lot of inequality (in Mexico). Most people don’t have health insurance and make a living from menial work that can’t be shut down,” he said.
“I’m more afraid of crime than the virus,” Sandro said, adding that Mexico’s economy can’t withstand a total lockdown and that thefts will increase.
For the time being, Mexico and Italy are at opposite ends of the coronavirus spectrum.
Whereas the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Latin American country is still fewer than 500, Italy has reported more than 80,000 cases and more than 8,000 deaths.
That European country’s population has been under strict confinement measures for the past two weeks; people in Mexico, by contrast, have not been told to stay at home, although “many are already doing so” of their own accord, according to Sandro.
The Italian immigrant’s eyes water up with tears when I ask him what message he would like to send to his mother.
“First of all, happy birthday. Secondly, I’ll be able to be there with you in Italy soon, mom, and give you lots of kisses.”