Cooperativa de Artesanos Indígenas de Sonora (CAIS) is a collective organization representing local artisans from the different ethnic groups from the Sonora territory of Mexico. Established in 2015 with support from Lutisuc Asociación Cultural I.A.P, the cooperative is guided by the mission of promoting and preserving the Indigenous cultures of the region.
CAIS represents the eight Indigenous communities of Sonora, divided into three groups: pueblos de la Sierra (people of the mountains), pueblos del Desierto (people of the desert), and pueblos del Valle (people of the valley).
The Indigenous groups — Pima, Kikapú, Guarijío, Seri, Pápago, Cupcapá, Mayo, and Yaqui — all create artisan handicraft representative of their individual heritage worldview and traditions. With the help of CAIS and their social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, they are able to promote and sell their art.
“Many of the groups are located very far away. It is very difficult for them to get support, from civil society, the government or NGOs, because of their geographical situation. We support them by selling their art craft from our Hermosillo location, the state’s capital,” CAIS’s Guadalupe Téllez Gándara shared.
The organization leverages Facebook as its main web presence to document the elaborate details of each item’s significance and origin. They then share the diverse collection including textiles, decorations, clothing, embroidery, jewelry, instruments and woodwork among many others via Facebook and Instagram.
Free and low-cost social media platforms make it possible for CAIS to do business affordably. “[On Facebook] we inform people about the product. We tell them who made it, where the artists come from, what material they use and the meaning of the art craft. Because all the art pieces have meaning and contain identity,” explained Valeria Fernández Valencia, an advisor to CAIS.
For 25 years, Lutisuc Cultural Association has been working with each of the Indigenous communities and sharing their knowledge, culture and stories through social media. “So we have lots of information captured due to this joint work. And it has been very helpful for us regarding promotion. The communities share their worldview with us, and that’s very important,” said Elizeth Rábago Soto, the organization’s promotions manager.
“Some time ago, we created a Facebook Group for disseminating the embroidery work of our groups and other kinds of embroidery by other Indigenous groups, keeping in touch and sharing information,” noted Patricia Moreno López, the president of CAIS.
The goal was to generate more income during the pandemic. Patricia emphasized that they recognize the potential of new international markets to support growth and boost sales. She shared that through Facebook, they were able to expand their geographic reach. “A lot of people in different countries are interested in buying our products,” though she cautioned that the challenges of shipping their goods remain an impediment to exports.
When exporting, the organization often experiences obstacles due to restrictions in overseas markets and organic materials used in products.
“We sell abroad, but very limited because shipment is very difficult,” explained María Inmaculada Puente Andrés, the director of Lutisuc Cultural Association. “Everything we do is with organic materials, with animal skins, with bones, with wood, everything is organic and that makes the exports difficult.”
Valeria added that “the tariffs were so high” in their destination markets.
Connectivity is another barrier to global markets that Indigenous businesses in Mexico experience.
Valeria shared that “the main problem is that technology is not getting to the Indigenous communities. And that’s a limitation both for the communities as well as for CAIS. Having the headquarters in the capital has helped, and social media has been very useful for [visibility]. But for the communities, there is no signal from the internet or mobile phone and that hurts the management of the organization.”
“For all the Indigenous Peoples, it would be a great benefit to have the technology in the communities. Communication is a challenge; they lack the minimum services and there is a lack of technology training. We need the government to better the infrastructure and systems of communication in this region of the state.”