Cover image for A cup of water under my bed : a memoir
A cup of water under my bed : a memoir
Hernández, Daisy, author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston, Massachusetts : Beacon Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
xii, 185 pages ; 23 cm
"It's 1980. Ronald Reagan has been elected president, John Lennon has been shot, and a little girl in New Jersey has been hauled off to English classes. Her teachers and parents and tias are expecting her to become white--like the Italians. This is the opening to A cup of water under my bed, the memoir of one Colombian-Cuban daughter's rebellions and negotiations with the women who raised her and the world that wanted to fit her into a cubbyhole. From language acquisition to coming out as bisexual to arriving as a reporting intern at the New York Times as the paper is rocked by its biggest plagiarism scandal, Daisy Hernandez chronicles what the women in her community taught her about race, sex, money, and love. This is a memoir about the private nexus of sexuality, immigration, race and class issues, but it is ultimately a daughter's cuento of how to take the lessons from home and shape them into a new, queer life"--
Condemned -- One. Before Love, Memory -- Stories She Tells Us -- The Candy Dish -- A Cup of Water Under My Bed -- Two. Even If I Kiss a Woman -- Queer Narratives -- Que India -- Three. Only Ricos Have Credit -- My Father's Hands -- Blackout -- Despues.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CT275.H5862 A3 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
CT275.H5862 A3 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
CT275.H5862 A3 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
CT275.H5862 A3 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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A coming-of-age memoir by a Colombian-Cuban woman about shaping lessons from home into a new, queer life In this lyrical, coming-of-age memoir, Daisy Hernandez chronicles what the women in her Cuban-Colombian family taught her about love, money, and race. Her mother warns her about envidia and men who seduce you with pastries, while one tia bemoans that her niece is turning out to be " una india " instead of an American. Another auntie instructs that when two people are close, they are bound to become like una y mugre , fingernails and dirt, and that no, Daisy?s father is not godless. He?s simply praying to a candy dish that can be traced back to Africa. These lessons-rooted in women?s experiences of migration, colonization, y carino -define in evocative detail what it means to grow up female in an immigrant home. In one story, Daisy sets out to defy the dictates of race and class that preoccupy her mother and tias, but dating women and transmen, and coming to identify as bisexual, leads her to unexpected questions. In another piece, NAFTA shuts local factories in her hometown on the outskirts of New York City, and she begins translating unemployment forms for her parents, moving between English and Spanish, as well as private and collective fears. In prose that is both memoir and commentary, Daisy reflects on reporting for the New York Times as the paper is rocked by the biggest plagiarism scandal in its history and plunged into debates about the role of race in the newsroom. A heartfelt exploration of family, identity, and language, A Cup of Water Under My Bed is ultimately a daughter?s story of finding herself and her community, and of creating a new, queer life.

Author Notes

Daisy Hernandez is the coeditor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today?s Feminism and the former editor of ColorLines magazine. She speaks at colleges and conferences about feminism, race, and media representations, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times , Ms. magazine, CultureStrike , In These Times , Bellingham Review , Fourth Genre , and Hunger Mountain , and on NPR?s All Things Considered .

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Journalist, feminist, and first-time memoirist Hernandez presents a coming-of-age story that dives into the complexities of language, sexuality, and class. From English lessons at her Catholic school in New Jersey to Spanish lessons at Instituto Cervantes in Manhattan, Hernandez renders in picture-perfect detail the somber habits of her schoolteacher nuns, her Cuban father's persistent drinking, and her Colombian mother's opinionated sisters (characterized by their preference for 99-cent lip gloss strawberry, pomegranate, peach). Like her mother, Hernandez finds herself drawn to new destinations and, as she gains exposure to women's studies and queer communities, begins to evaluate her own sexual orientation. Her writing is at its finest when Hernandez defuses awkward tension with humor, as when she considers using Frida Kahlo's famous painting, The Two Fridas, to explain lesbian relationships. She maintains a lively pace by flashing back-and-forth between childhood and adulthood, personal and professional lives, with an emphasis on her ascent from New York Times intern to regular columnist at Ms. An accessible, honest look at the often heart-wrenching effects of intergenerational tension on family ties.--Baez, Diego Copyright 2014 Booklist



Before Love, Memory They come for me in a station wagon. My mother already has me dressed in a navy-blue plaid jumper and a white blouse. She has yanked my dark hair into pigtails and now makes the sign of the cross on my forehead before turning me over to a skinny lady, who ushers me into the backseat of the station wagon. I join a small group of children, mostly Cuban, all of us dressed alike, our eyes bright and nervous. The station wagon lady drops us off at the steps of a gloomy castle in Union City, New Jersey: Holy Family Catholic School. The yard is hemmed in with black iron bars and the front doors are made of steel. Women in dress pants roam the cement grounds like fat hens with their wings clipped, their beaks pointing and gesturing. I huddle with the other children in packs of three and five like scared chicks. Miss Reynolds is the kindergarten teacher. She has glasses that make her eyes look like oversized buttons on her face, and she speaks the funny language that comes out of the television set at home when we are not watching telenovelas or the noticias , which is to say that she talks like the cartoon character Mighty Mouse. It is English, a language that sounds like marbles in the mouth. It is fun to hear, but mostly because the mouse on the TV screen is flying. Sitting in the classroom, I wait for Miss Reynolds to start talking like my mother. In Spanish. Surely it won't be long now. An hour passes. Two hours. An entire day it feels, and still it is all Mighty Mouse. I am familiar with the language. I even speak a few words of it. But I have never heard so much of it all at once. It's like being forced to watch the same cartoon all day long. I don't know if this is what actually happened on my first day of kindergarten, but it is what I remember of my first two years in school. A few memories can be confirmed by research and on-site inspection: Mighty Mouse on television, the school's black iron bars. My mother verifies the station wagon lady and the ethnicity of the other children, and school photographs offer details of the uniform and my teacher's face. There are, however, missteps in memory, places where emotion has distorted people, sights, even cuerpos . In a school photograph, for example, my teacher is a skinny, androgynous white woman with thick glasses. But I remember her as a fat hen, a flying mouse, and kindergarten as the beginning of the end. A teacher comes for us one day. Just two of us. Me and my friend, a thin, pixie-faced girl. I don't know why we are being taken from class, but in the darkened hallway as we find ourselves farther from our classroom, my friend starts crying, and hers are not baby tears. They are full blast, llorona wails. She roots herself to the ground and refuses to take one more step. The teacher begins dragging her by the arm, but the harder the woman pulls, the more my friend yells and twists, and for an instant, it looks as if her left arm is threatening to rip from her body, as if she will choose self-mutilation over what is to come at the hands of white women. As for myself, I don't fight. I follow. In an empty classroom, the white woman pulls out a deck of cards with pictures and words. She spreads the cards on a broad table, one by one. The sun is pouring through the window and coating us in a yellow liquid, but I can decipher the cards. Each one holds a picture and a word: dog , cat , house. I am to repeat each word after the teacher. In Spanish, we have cartas . Tía Rosa's husband uses them to talk with the spirit world. The cards tell us about jobs that are about to arrive, ancestors who are unhappy, a case pending with immigration. The cards are paper doors only special people can open. I look at the white woman's cards and listen to her bold English words --dog , cat , house --and there is all the evidence of what is to come in my life. I am not to go the way of the two people I long for in the thick terror of the night. The first man I love and the first woman I adore, my father and my mother with their Spanish words, are not in these cards. The road before me is English and the next part too awful to ask aloud or even silently: What is so wrong with my parents that I am not to mimic their hands, their needs, not even their words? Before language, there is love. Before love, memory. What I know of the world before kindergarten is the uneven sidewalks of Union City, New Jersey. The shop with its fat chickens hollering at us and nipping at the wire cages. The sharp smell of chicken blood when the little beasts are killed in back and brought in white plastic bags to my mother. The fabric store with its bins carrying spools of thread like a Cubana holding up the ends of her apron. The buses that snake up and down Bergenline Avenue. The store jammed with cigars and wrinkled men and women folding the ends of the thick brown leaves. Our national language is Spanish and there are many kinds. Mostly it is the firecracker Spanish of my Cuban father and his friends. It smacks the air and the back of my head and the inside of my ears. There is also the Spanish of the Puertorriqueño Tía Rosa has married. His words mimic popcorn when it first begins popping. Finally, there is Colombian Spanish. My mother's language does not crack or bounce. It stays close to the earth, to thick hands and the smooth sides of stones. English has a place here. It is the language of minorities, and you hear it every now and then, mostly from Mighty Mouse on television or the older kids on the block. English is a game of marbles. The words shoot after each other. They bump and plod and leave tracks on the ground, and it is a decent game, English that is, but everything real happens in Spanish: the way women complain about the fábricas where they work, how they yell at you to not play in the street, how they drag you into the house when the sky turns a velvet black, lying to you: " Ahorita sales otra vez ." Terrible things happen in Spanish. My father and his friend get drunk, slur their words, and turn into screeching birds. Rage is an awful habit in any language, I suppose, but on our street, in our home, in Spanish, it takes on awful proportions, and the mothers complain to each other in shorthand: " Qué se va 'cer ?" The reply is always the same: Así son los hombres . Women are different. Union City is filled with virgins. La Caridad, La Altagracia, La Virgen de Chiquinquirá. They come from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia. Like us, they are a matter of multiplicity. There is never one of anything in this world. There are many virgins, many women, many sounds in Spanish. Dollars, though, are a constant. In the kitchen, my mother folds aluminum foil over dollar bills and packs them into envelopes. The dollars are to be mailed with letters to her mother in Colombia. We send dollars because of the wars. It is the eighties and there are two wars. The one in Colombia is about land and poor people. The other one, the Cold War, means my mother and I cannot travel to Cuba. "It isn't safe," my father says in between puffs of his thick cigar. We travel instead to Hialeah, Florida, and Mami and I go together by plane to Bogotá and Boyacá, and by train to Queens and Manhattan. By the time I start kindergarten, I feel these places and New Jersey are part of the same country. Everyone lives within its borders, speaks Spanish, and eats a lot of fried pork. In the evening, my mother turns on the television for the noticias . The stories arrive from Latin America. Women with missing teeth cry into microphones. Men with brown faces scream. Los niños carry younger children. Sometimes, it is only the image of men's feet in their shoes and the white sheets covering the rest of their bodies. The women wail behind the reporter, who talks about the number of dead and those left behind. " Ay , los pobres ," my mother whispers, before turning her eyes and her pregnant belly away from the television screen. But I don't look away. I want to see what it is all about, because my mother comes from that place in the television set and so does my father. Those places where the floor is a thick brown soil and men's bodies disappear save for their shoes. Excerpted from A Cup of Water under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernandez All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.