In This Review

Identities in North America: The Search for Community
Identities in North America: The Search for Community
Edited by Robert L. Earle and John D. Wirth
Stanford University Press, 1995, 256 pp

With or without NAFTA, powerful economic and social forces are bringing the United States, Mexico, Canada, and their peoples closer together. In the longer term, trade and investment may be some of the least profound elements in this new equation. This rich and accessible book argues that ongoing changes within North America will stimulate an examination of each nation's sense of identity and provide fresh opportunities for cooperation. Based on several years of tri-national discussion, John Wirth, of Stanford and the North American Institute of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Robert Earle, who is former minister counselor for public affairs at the U.S. embassy in Mexico, have brought together 13 scholars from Mexico, Canada, and the United States in an attempt to assess some of the key elements that make up this emerging dynamic. They assess group identities, group interaction, and regional perspectives, including Quebec and the new binationalism of western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico as North America's maritime frontier, and the U.S.-Mexican border.

Unlike many of the writers on these potentially divisive questions, the authors of this volume are generally positive in their assessments. Yet the editors are not naive, pointing out in their thoughtful introduction that "the need to focus on the validity of values other than their own may catch Americans unprepared to grasp the new realities of interdependence." In his contribution on American identity, Marc Pacher concludes that America "will find, in the end, that being North American is not the same as being American." These are not issues that impact on elites or policymakers exclusively, of course, and the authors may be too modest in their assessments of the political fallout and its unpredictability. This fascinating book shows the outlines of those forces that are inexorably making the 21st century.