I remember as a kid going to family posadas at Rancho Zamudio and patiently waiting for the carnitas to be done. I began following Juan Fuentes about a year ago, his images bring back memories of my childhood. It's 2020, our worlds have been flipped upside down and life feels surreal. I am grateful to see that during these times, families from all over are still practicing traditions, but most importantly gathering together to support one another. I have yet to try them, but I have no doubt that Carnitas Don Juan in Denver, CO is top shelf. Juan shares some context behind who he is, what he does, and images from his family business. - Joshua Zamudio
CARNITAS DON JUAN
Hello, my name is Juan Fuentes. I was born in the small town of Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua in Mexico but migrated to the United States when I was a kid, and was raised in Denver, Colorado where I still live now.
I grew up in North Denver in the 90’s, a neighborhood known for a lot of gang violence at the time. Living in an immigrant household, my parents tried to keep me away from the street life, but my older brother and I rebelled and took in our environment. I found a way to avoid getting too caught up in gang culture, I found an outlet skateboarding and hanging out with kids doing graffiti or other creative things. I also spent a lot of my childhood going back to Mexico to stay with my grandmother during summer breaks, which I feel influenced me so much.
I have only been photographing for about 3 years, although I had always loved taking family pictures on disposable cameras growing up. I started admiring photography as a kid when I became obsessed with Lowrider Magazine in elementary school. I was always fascinated by the photos of the custom cars, so I would save up my lunch money and collect as many issues as I could from the 7-Eleven down the street from my house. Later on in life I really got inspired in the early days of Instagram. Seeing how people were sharing photos of street culture was really interesting to me, especially seeing local photographers in Denver doing it. I slowly integrated myself into the local photography community through a platform called Theyshootn, that was hosting meet-ups and curating DIY exhibits. I started taking photos on my phone and that eventually led to me buying my first camera in 2017, from there I dove deeper into the photo and documentary world.
The biggest struggles my family and I have been facing during the Covid-19 pandemic have been the lack of resources available to us. Besides not being eligible for a stimulus check, being undocumented has meant having to maneuver through a health crisis without healthcare and other government aid. My father is considered an essential worker and has been able to continue working his construction job, which unfortunately puts him at greater risk but is following through out of necessity. I have been able to work remotely on a few photo projects with local institutions and organizations that have helped me out a bit financially, but my main source of income before quarantine was assisting editorial and commercial photographers and pretty much all photoshoots have been cancelled or postponed. I took a big hit in my income since I’m also not eligible to file for unemployment.
The work that I'm showcasing is part of my documentation of my family’s side hustle. My pops has been cooking carnitas for about 20 years for family functions and special occasions, but in recent years he’s been selling them out of our garage as an additional source of income. During this pandemic and with my family’s financial future being uncertain, this side hustle has now become a more critical part of our household income. I decided to capture the process and routine behind our carnitas Sunday. These intimate photographs behind the scene are an ode to the resilient spirit of immigrant families.
I think it is important to photograph and document because it creates a record that affirms our reality, experience and moment in history. It is also a vehicle for storytelling, which allows us to take authorship of our own narrative.