- Introduction—Fantasies of Nation: Canada-US Relations in the Era of Trump / La nation fantasmée : les relations entre le Canada et les États-Unis à l’ère de Trump
This special section of the Canadian Review of American Studies began in the fall of 2015, with the collaborative creation1 of a Call for Papers for the Irish and British Associations of American Studies, who had decided to co-host their annual conferences together in Belfast in recognition of a number of key historical anniversaries, including the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the bicentenary of Uncle Sam’s first appearance in literature. As a site for thinking about borders, Belfast is ripe with significance: the city is divided by what were historically called “peacelines” separating Protestant and Catholic with barbed wire, corrugated metal, wire mesh, and a complex gate system that has grown from a single site erected by the British army chief in 1969, which was expected to be a temporary solution, to the present site, which includes close to one hundred barriers (Di Cintio 209).
Moreover, the plenary speakers at the conference included author Richard Ford, whose 2014 novel, Canada, as we outlined in the Call, “examines the complex relationship of America to its northern neighbor, focusing on how one young boy remakes his identity once he has crossed the 49th parallel [in the summer of 1960], albeit with relative ease” (Cole and Andrews). Dell Parson’s escape to Canada, aided by a family friend of his mother’s, is remarkably simple. His parents have robbed a bank and are in jail, his twin sister has run away to California, and thus, left alone, he is persuaded that it is in his best interests to go to Canada rather than be placed in an orphanage. Within days, the teen crosses the border checkpoints in a car driven by Mildred Remlinger, who claims to [End Page 1] be taking her “nephew” to purchase clothing, an all too familiar example of cross-border shopping—only Dell has no intention of returning to the United States. He remains in Canada, marries a Canadian woman, and tells the story of his parents’ downfall at the end of his life, having retired from a long teaching career in the Windsor area, where he can see Detroit just across the river. He remains a “Canadian conscript” (Ford 396), ambivalent about his relationship to his adopted homeland and certain that if his parents hadn’t committed the crime they did, then he, too, might have lived the much coveted American Dream.
For white heterosexuals with the income to afford the cost of a passport and the ability to travel, much like Dell, Canada-US border crossings may feel like little more than an inconvenience. Yet Dell’s experience stands in direct contrast, for example, to Thomas King’s 1993 short story “Borders,” which recounts the experience of a Black-foot mother and son who, on the way to visit a daughter who has moved from Alberta to Utah, find themselves trapped between the Canada-US border checkpoints because the mother insists on being identified by her tribe rather than the nation-state. The literal standoff ends when television reporters arrive, prompting border services on both sides to allow the mother and son access to the United States and the ability to return to Canada; told from the perspective of the young boy, the story poignantly portrays the exclusionary strategies at work at the forty-ninth parallel for those perceived as unwilling to identify themselves within regulated nation-state categories. King’s story echoes the daily challenges faced by Indigenous peoples whose tribal communities have been divided by the creation of the Canada-US border. In a 2016 report from the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Border Crossing Issues and the Jay Treaty, Mohawks from the Akwesasne describe the gruelling impediments they continue to face as a tribe that physically straddles the nation-state border, often necessitating multiple visits to checkpoints and physical crossings in the course of a single day to accomplish basic tasks like grocery shopping. Notably...