Collage of items commonly found in Asian households.

The Rise of the Immigrant Aesthetic Trend

Why do all of our parents have the same dishes—and why do we want them in our home, too?

Words by Vandana Pawa

Barbiecore, cottagecore, balletcore—as aesthetics and trends cycle, social media showcases the shift from one look to another in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Lately, though, immigrant aesthetic has been taking hold, from the street style of Chinatown aunties to warm wood furniture.

One aspect of the immigrant aesthetic that has been identified online is the idea of cluttercore: a look that embraces a sense of organized chaos in one’s living space, that may have come to popularity as a response to the rise in minimalism among the millennial generation. New York City creative director, and queen of maximalism, Gia Seo has created a brand for herself when it comes to embracing the way clutter makes her home cozy, and the stylist’s Instagram account is filled with photos that showcase her extensive collection of books and toys. To some, adopting the aesthetic comes from the idea that being surrounded by displays of objects that you cherish can make for a happier space. Others are realizing that they saw similar patterns of object collection in the homes where they grew up, and beginning to understand that it might be related to trauma. As children of immigrants leave the nest and curate their own spaces outside of their childhood homes, they are beginning to realize that some aspects of “mom and dad’s house” will come along with them.

Take comedian Ali Wong, who explored the idea in her comedy special Baby Cobra. “I have a hoarding problem because my mom is from a third world country and she taught me that you can never throw away anything, because you never know when a dictator’s gonna overtake the country and snatch all your wealth,” joked the Chinese and Vietnamese American comic. For some immigrants, growing up with fewer resources means that trauma may have turned into the desire to collect as much as possible for their family once they emigrated, because they never knew when it may be needed.

For other immigrants, collecting clutter meant holding on to memories. Whether it was photos, old clothing, technology, or silverware, certain pieces can be tethered to memories of life before migration. One TikTok user has made the most of this habit by incorporating older things, from bandanas to video cameras to cartons of milk, found at home into his life. “Forever grateful to my Asian parents for hoarding stuff that’s now considered ‘vintage’,” the creator shared on a video.

While the roots of the immigrant home aesthetic differ from one family to another, it’s clear for Asian Americans on social media that the comfort of such remains throughout life. For some, it comes in the form of learning a TikTok dance surrounded by your parent’s clutter, knowing that you will be interrupted during the performance. For others, it’s the spinning of a lazy susan filled with food as laughter carries through a home furnished with the same kitchenware that everyone else’s parents have, too. With the occasionally trivial nature of the way children of immigrants may choose to embody their parents' habits, this trend could just be a means of rationalizing the clutter in one’s apartment. On the other hand, though, it could be an illumination of the grown up Asian American’s ability to finally accept their parents for who they are, mess and all.

Published on November 22, 2023

Words by Vandana Pawa

Vandana Pawa is a Bangkok-born, Brooklyn-based culture and fashion writer. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @vandanaiscool.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.