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Trauma and Memory Studies  

Karyn Ball

A focus on trauma’s institutional trajectory in literary and cultural theory serves to narrow the transnational and multidirectional scope of memory studies. While Sigmund Freud’s attempt in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to define trauma in order to account for World War I veterans’ symptoms might serve as a provisional departure point, the psychological afflictions that haunted American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War reinforced the explanatory value of what came to be called “posttraumatic stress disorder,” which the American Psychiatric Association added to the DSM-III (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980. Multiple dramatic films released in the 1980s about Vietnam conveyed images of the American soldier’s two-fold traumatization by the violence he not only witnessed but also perpetrated along with the ambivalent treatment he received upon his return to a protest-riven nation waking up to the demoralizing realization that US military prowess was neither absolute nor inherently just. Proliferating research and writing about trauma in the late 1980s reflected this juncture as well as the transformative impact of the new social movements whose consciousness-raising efforts inspired a generation of academics to revise secondary and post-secondary literary canons. The publication in 1992 of both Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery as well as Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub’s Testimony: Crises of Witnessing; In Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, along with Cathy Caruth’s editorial compilation entitled Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995) and collected essays in Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (1996), crystallized a moment when trauma was manifestly coming into vogue as an object of inquiry. This trend was reinforced by simultaneous developments in Holocaust studies that included critical acclaim for Claude Lanzmann’s ten-hour documentary Shoah (released in 1985), the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC in 1993, and, that same year, the international success of Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Other key events that propelled the popularity of trauma studies in the 1990s included the fall of the Berlin wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and South African apartheid governments, and Toni Morrison receiving the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for Beloved. The latter additionally bolstered specialization in African American studies as a platform for investigating representations of slavery and its violent afterlives. While some critics fault the 1990s confluence of Holocaust and trauma studies for its Eurocentrism, the research pursued by feminist, multiculturalist, and postcolonial scholars in the same period laid the foundation for increasingly diverse lines of inquiry. Postcolonial criticism in particular has inspired scholarship about the intergenerational aftereffects of civil war, partition, forced migration, and genocide as well as the damage that accrues as settler states continue to marginalize and constrain the indigenous groups they displaced. More recent trauma research has also moved beyond a focus on finite events to examine the compounding strain of the everyday denigrations and aggressions faced by subordinated groups in tandem with long-term persecution and systemically induced precarity. Ultimately, then, the scale of trauma and memory studies has become not only global but also planetary in response to intensifying public anxiety about extinction events and climate change.

Article

Central American-American Identity and Politics  

Maritza E. Cárdenas

The use of the term “Central American” as an identity category is neither new nor restricted to the US diaspora. However, it is within the last forty years and in the geopolitical setting of the United States that a thriving identity politics has developed. It is during this time period that the use of the term Central American has emerged to denote a tactical American pan-ethnic social identity. This act of consciously employing the term “Central American” as a unification strategy for peoples from the isthmus in the United States echoes other US-based ethnoracial identity politics. Such movements often utilize a pan-ethnic term not only to advocate on the behalf of a racialized minoritarian community but also seeking to provide them a space of belonging by focusing on sociopolitical, cultural, and ethnic commonalities. As other identity markers in the United States such as “Asian American” and “African American” illustrate, Central Americans are not the first population to utilize a region as a strategic unifying term of self-identification. Yet, unlike these other US ethnoracial categories, for those who identify as “Central American” the term “Central America” often connotes not simply a geographic space but also a historical formation that advances the notion that individuals from the isthmus comprise a distinct but common culture. Another key difference from other US ethnoracial identities is that use of the term “Central American” in US cultural politics emerged during a historical era where the broader collective terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” were already in place. The creation and deployment of “Central American” is therefore an alternative to this other supra-ethnic identity category, as subjects view this isthmian-based term as being able to simultaneously create a broader collective while still invoking a type of geographic and cultural specificity that is usually associated with national identities.

Article

Asian Dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o Identity and Cultural Production  

Kathleen López

Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, intellectuals and politicians have focused on three main groups as foundational to national and cultural identities: indigenous, African, and European. Mestizaje or racial mixing as a political project has worked to silence the presence and contributions of people of African and Asian descent, while favoring intermixing among European and indigenous. Researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, and sociology have long debated the role of Asians in the transition from slavery to wage labor and produced studies on the transnational and diasporic dimensions of Asian migration and settlement in the region. However, literature and cultural production captures aspects of the Asian presence in the Caribbean Latina/o world that remain absent or underplayed in most empirical studies. Prominent Latina/o writers and artists from the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic) incorporate Asian characters and themes into their work on history, migration, and diaspora. They explore the Asian dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o racial, ethnic, gendered, and class identities and pose a challenge to foundational discourses of national and cultural identities based on mestizaje and syncretism that serve to subsume and erase the Asian presence. Secondary migrations of Asians from Latin America and the Caribbean to North America has produced a small but significant demographic of Asian Latina/os, some of whom reflect on their experiences through essays, memoirs, fiction, poetry, and art. The cultural production of Asian Latinas/os resists hegemonic concepts of race, nation, citizenship, and identity.

Article

Puerto Rican Nationhood, Ethnicity, and Literature  

Frances R. Aparicio

Given Puerto Rico’s long colonial history, Puerto Ricans both on the island and in the diaspora have had to grapple with contested notions of nationhood. Having been described as a “divided nation” and a “commuter nation” due to the geographical divides between the island population and those who have migrated to cities in the United States, Puerto Ricans have deployed literature to forge and re-imagine a space for belonging and community informed by the experiences of living in between the island and New York, in between Spanish and English, and in between racial notions of skin color, social class, and gender and sexualities. Challenging and unsettling the foundational discourses of national identity on the island, “Diasporican” literature proposes alternative imaginaries that resist power inequalities. This essay argues that Diasporican literature has come into its own, contributing new understandings of the fissures of Puerto Rican national, ethnic, and cultural identities. Puerto Rican writers in the United States have textualized their experiences of migration and transnationalism through their poetry as well as fiction, memoirs, and autobiographical narratives. They have contested traditional notions of home and have explored the failures and limitations of a sense of belonging. Rejecting both the island of Puerto Rico as the geographical site for Puerto Rican authenticity and the dominant urban imaginaries of New York City that have long excluded their working-poor communities, Puerto Rican writers in the United States have represented el barrio as an urban space that offers them a sense of community despite the mainstream notions of hyper-masculinity, violence, and illegal practices. Afro-Boricua and Diasporican writers have also reflected on the fissures of racial belonging, as their dark skin color is not always integrated into dominant notions of the Puerto Rican and U.S. national imaginaries. Their deployment, in poetry, of English, Spanish, and “Spanglish” speaks mostly to the centrality of orality and sounds in the formation of nationhood, while challenging the homology of Puerto Rican nationality to Spanish. Exploration of the ways in which female, feminist, and queer Diasporican writers grapple with issues of belonging, gender, and sexuality foregrounds how these categories of identity continue to go against the grain of traditional masculine narratives of nationhood. It is essential to acknowledge the geographic dispersion of Diasporican voices away from New York and the transcultural alliances and global identities that are being produced in Morocco, Hawaii, and other far regions of the world. A short discussion of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” focuses on an example of staging a return home to New York, in a performance that celebrates community, family, and the neighborhood for second- and third-generation Puerto Ricans among other Latino and Latina groups. The multiple and complicated ways in which Diasporican literary voices, from poetry to theater to fiction, textualize notions of home, belonging, and community are examined within the larger frameworks of nationhood and ethnicity.

Article

Dominican Ethnic Identities, National Borders, and Literature  

Lorgia García Peña

The formation of Dominican identity has been linked to the historical nexus that placed Dominicans in relationship to Haiti, Spain, and the United States. The foundational literature of the 19th century sought to shape national identity as emerging from racial hybridity through notions of mestizaje that obscured Dominican African roots. In the early to mid-20th century, at the hands of the Trujillo intelligentsia, these myths shaped legal, educational, and military structures, leading to violence and disenfranchisement. Since the death of Trujillo in 1961, Dominican writers, artists, and scholars have been articulating other ways of being Dominican that include Afro-Dominican episteme and accounts for the experiences of colonialisms, bordering, and diasporic movements. These articulations of dominicanidad have led to a vibrant, exciting, and incredibly diverse literary production at home and abroad.

Article

Nationalism and Globalization in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction  

Janice Ho

Since the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the nation-state has risen to be the dominant form of political organization in the world through its embodiment of the principle of nationalism—that nations should be sovereign unto themselves. The post-1945 era, however, has seen an intensification in the processes of globalization, characterized by the rise of international telecommunications networks; the increasing and accelerated movement of finance capital, labor, and cultural commodities; and the consolidation of supranational and transnational organizations that operate beyond national borders. Although it is commonplace to see the era of globalization inaugurating the decline, if not altogether the obsolescence, of the nation-state, it is more accurate and useful to analyze the particular ways in which globalization has transformed the nature and functions of the nation-state, especially its cultural identities, its existence as a unified economic unit, and the scope of its political sovereignty. Indeed, reading different developments in the cultural, economic, and political realms suggests that the impact of globalization on the nation-state is uneven and partial, rather than teleological in its advancement. Contemporary anglophone fiction has turned to addressing the complex entanglements between the nation and globalization in multiple and heterogeneous ways. Some fiction melancholically looks back to the political legacies of Third World nationalisms that promised universal emancipation to their citizens, only to chart their subsequent disappointments as the ruling elite of postcolonial nation-states continued to perpetuate legacies of imperialism. Other novels celebrate the syncretic and diasporic transnational identities—and the hybridization of national identities—that emerge through sustained contact with other cultural milieus via the processes of globalization. Still others depict the depredations that economic globalization visits on developed and developing nations alike, albeit in different ways and in different degrees. And many contemporary novels engage with the continuing political sovereignty of the nation-state in the face of human rights violations and planetary catastrophes, reflecting on the role of literature in circumventing the authority of the state and bringing distant suffering to a global audience.