by Cathy J. Schlund-Vials
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “trauma” (noun) refers to “a wound or external bodily injury in general; also the condition caused by this.” Shifting from the physical to the psychological, “trauma” analogously denotes “a psychic injury, esp. one caused by emotional shock the memory of which is repressed and remains unhealed.” In adjectival form, “traumatic” signifies the following: “of, pertaining to, or caused by a psychic wound or emotional shock, esp. leading to or causing behavioral disturbance.” Within recent memory, these “psychic wounds” and “emotional shocks” are inextricably linked to war and state-authorized mass violence. As Cathy Caruth avers in “Unclaimed Experience: Trauma and the Possibility of History,” “The experience of the solider faced with sudden and massive death around him, for example, who suffers this sight in a numbed state, only to relive it later on in repeated nightmares, is a central and recurring image of trauma in our century” (1996, 10). Haunted by “repeated nightmares” of “sudden and massive death,” Caruth’s didactic vignette encompasses a now-familiar psychological narrative of a priori violence, presentist (non) response, and unreconciled aftermath.
As we assert in the introduction to Keywords for Asian American Studies, this volume – like other volumes in the series – is not an encyclopedia. Rather, Keywords for Asian American Studies is inspired and shaped by Raymond Williams’s still-relevant contention that various terms represent a flexible yet identifiable vocabulary that “has been inherited within precise historical and social conditions” that nevertheless must “be made at once conscious and critical” (1985, 24). Keywords for Asian American Studies likewise reflects the contours of a multidisciplinary field that encompasses the social sciences, humanities, and cultural studies.
Born out of the civil rights and Third World liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Asian American studies has grown considerably over the past four decades, both as a distinct field of inquiry and as a potent site of critique. In the late nineteenth century, most of what was written about the Asian presence in America was by those who sought to impede the immigration of Asians or to curtail the social mobility of Asians already in the country. This tendency in the literature of the time, and subsequent scholarship on Asians and Asian Americans that appeared into the late 1960s, led Roger Daniels to observe, “Other immigrant groups were celebrated for what they had accomplished, Orientals were important for what had been done to them” (1966, 375). As the field developed starting in the late 1960s, more emphasis was placed upon the lived experiences of Asian Americans, in terms of what they have endured, accomplished, and transformed. In the early stages of the development of Asian American studies as an academic field of inquiry, more attention was paid to the history and experiences of Chinese, Japanese, and to some extent, Filipinos in the United States.
First and foremost, we want to publicly thank all the contributors to this Keywords for Asian American Studies volume, whose work renders visible the capaciousness, strength, and growth of the field. They patiently worked with us through our requests for revisions to make this a cohesive project and it is through their immense scholarly contributions to the field that we are able to produce this collection.