Mexican-Canadian Jews respond to the Tarahumara food crisis

Members of the Knitting Group

Approximately two million Mexican residents have been affected by a drought this winter, one that has destroyed nearly half of the nation’s crops. At the same time, there have been freezing cold temperatures. These harsh realities have resulted in a critical shortage of both food and water.

In response, the Mexican government has set aside $2.63 billion US in aid. Although many rural regions are suffering, much attention has been focused on the Sierra Madre region in northern Mexico. Particularly affected in the area has been the indigenous Tarahumara tribe, and many have become worried about the survival of this ancient community.

Among those concerned has been a group of Mexican-Canadian Jews who identify themselves as the Knitting Group. With the desire to help their homeland, they have offered some relief to the Tarahumara people and have demonstrated that a little bit of effort can sometimes go a long way.

The small Jewish Knitting Group brings together Mexican immigrants now living in Toronto. By combining food, banter, charity work and their experiences, the group has helped its dozen or so members adjust to life in Canada.

Clara Gordon, a founding member of the Knitting Group hailing from Mexico City, was deeply troubled by the Tarahumaras’ food crisis. After learning about it through a Mexican news source, she became committed to helping the region.

“I always knew about indigenous Mexicans and the Tarahumaras. It seemed wrong to not address a problem so familiar to me,” Gordon said.

Gordon was aware of the statistics:  Mexican state officials say this has been the worst drought the area has seen in the past 70 years, and has prevented more than 7,000 residents from producing food.

The other constituents of the Knitting Group also wanted to take action, especially given the Tarahumaras’ cultural legacy. Often identified as Mexico’s most unmixed Indian tribe, the Tarahumaras have remained relatively isolated from outside influences. While the majority of Mexicans communicate in Spanish and use the peso, few of the Tarahumaras speak that language, and they rely on an entrenched bartering system.

For the sake of cultural preservation alone, the Knitting Group was determined to help with the resolution of the Tarahumaras’ food crisis, but they struggled with choosing a reliable aid organization.

The Knitting Group has responded to other international catastrophes in the past. Although they are still establishing their approach to calamity, they have already helped a colleague send money to a mosquito net project in Cambodia, and they have provided handmade hats to Israeli soldiers.

In the case of the Tarahumaras, however, the delivery of aid proved to be more difficult. The remote location of the tribe in a mountainous region has complicated the distribution of charitable goods, even by the government.

Gordon also pointed out that the group wanted its donation to be made in association with the Mexican Jewish community. “We are not always sure about where the help will go when we send money, but we know that the Jewish community is well organized in Mexico,” she said.

After some discussion with a friend in Mexico, the group decided to send its donation through a Jewish aid organization in the country. Their pooled total of $250 Cdn has provided the Tarahumaras with 40 baskets of food for 10 days.