Immigrant Home-making: Reconstructing Identity in Western Built Structures

Buildings are cultural products – interior layouts spatial hierarchy, visual and structural characters reflect the cultural values of those who built these structures. Doors, partitions, thresholds are boundaries between social domains – public, private, male, female, nature, machine, recuperation, and recreation.

This curated section explores the remaking of immigrant homes in the built environment of the American landscape, through analyzing Hmong Owned Homes in Milwaukee, WI within other examples from anthropologists, artists, and photographers. See Construct, De-Construct, Re-Construct : Diagrams of Immigrant Home Making (2020, Tommy Yang) for synopsis of constructions, followed by interviews.

When moving and rebuilding their lives in America, immigrants don’t take down walls, build new buildings, move the location of kitchens, or challenge the zoning and use permits of the City. Rather, they behave as Pratt predicts—deploying, re-appropriating and adapting via subtle, ephemeral, nuanced, ingenious and stealthy acts. Therefore this very act of inhabiting a building built by a people and culture other than the inhibitors make a kind of space that Mary Louise Pratt calls a contact zone, or “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today.” (Pratt, 1991) See Art of the Contact Zone, Mary Louisse Pratt (1991) page for a synopsis of her work.

This research understands people as actors in building and making, therefore consists of many discrepancies. The archive does not paint an overarching single story of immigrant interiors, but illustrates that these built environments consists of nuances that pertains to the individuals using the actual spaces.

Pratt, Mary Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Profession, 1991, 33-40.


Stories of the Banal
How can designers learn from the day to day practices of world making? Who makes a space a place and whose hand does a dwelling belong to? This sub section are a series of slices of life that documents how some families had begun to recreate a sense of belonging in the built environment.

Found Objects
What is the meaning at the size of tiny details? Previously unnoticed, but with dramatic potential, found objects has become a way for immigrant world-building in foreign places. The term found objects was adapted from the French terminology “objet trouve,” with the rise of artists looking to re-define what true art aesthetic should be. According to the Merriam Dictionary, found objects are, “a natural or discarded object found by chance and held to have aesthetic value,” (Merriam-Webster, 2020).

In the creation of home and world-building in the lives of immigrants, these objects may become symbols of the banal, the everyday. Holding onto these objects has transformed the man-made objects, who has functional mechanisms, into vessels of memories and history.

The Dictionary, s.v. “objet trouvé (n.),” accessed January 29, 2020,

Food Practices in Immigrant Home Building : Identity Condiments, Pots and Pans, and the _ of _
This section overviews the act of cooking and how the objects used for cooking becomes a way of decorating the interior program of the kitchen while maintaining a sense of identity of the families. From big pots and pans to the sriracha bottle, these objects of food preparation is a way for designers to navigate and understand what minuscule fluxes can help create belonging of the inhabitants. (must re-edit and word)

Personalizing Through Affiliations : History, Ancestry, and Spirits
This section explores the alternative or hybrid uses of house spaces. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a house is a "a building for habitation, and related senses," (Oxford, 2020). In the creation of home, many immigrants have begun to create other practices within the home that programmatically alters the the contemporary home.

(Add writing about spirits and the house spirits) Tying Cultures Together:Family, Ancestor, and Coming Home is an attempt to project the parallel practices of ancestral veneration within distinct immigrant communities. Ranging from the Hmong shamans to the temporary sites of family shrines in the Latin American Culture (Aztec Practices), home is the intersections between families beyond the physical world.

Note, though in these cases has illustrated how some families had begun to recreate home through spiritual practices, this does not paint a picture for all families. There may be temporary sites for shrines in homes and other way of practicing that personalizes an immigrant dwelling through affiliations.

This section is a brief look at social, architectural, and cultural theories that have begun to define the way designers have looked at the built world. Note, these thinkers re-assess the built environment as a place where cultures meet, mediate, and clash with each other. Space and Place defines congruent practices and linkages between individuals and populations.

This curated section has focused how immigrant identities play through the scope of cultural landscapes in the making of a home in American cities. While these Western Built structures are constantly urging the change of these immigrant populations, with brick, mortar, white walls, and _, there is in no doubt that the Hmong, Chinese, Latinos, and more are altering the structures to make home. Through the examinations of multiple case studies and cultural practices, it revealed of what the term home means. The results of the project clearly show that these immigrant homes are more than what is confined within the 20th Century Residential Dwellings. Home is an extension to the community that goes beyond the boundaries of the domestic settings. It includes a system of sites and locations where they eat, pray, socialize, and grow food.

As an example of immigrant assimilating to the fabrics of America, the families challenged the functions of American middle-class family homes and began adapting by creating more flexible and permeable spaces. The spaces and sensorial atmosphere of the homes and vacant lots were altered to what these families valued, highlighting the significance of place, generation, and the American mainstream socio-cultural factors that play into the recreation of identity.

This curated section pushes to demonstrate the global discourse of culture and recreation of the social sphere in foreign environments influencing the ideas of materiality, space, and the built structure. It however is not a comprehensive overview for many families. Future work in documentation and oral interviews of immigrant families will allow these projects to live a life beyond these images.

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