Daisy Hernandez

A Cup of Water Under My Bed

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A Cup of Water Under My Bed Summary

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A Cup of Water Under My Bed is a 2014 memoir by bisexual, Colombian-Cuban author Daisy Hernández about race, money, sexuality, love, and family. She recounts growing up as a woman in a household of immigrants through a thematic, rather than chronological, account of her childhood and adolescence. With each chapter focusing on a particular theme or idea, the book makes powerful statements about colonization and the struggle to maintain identity while being alienated because of race, language, and culture in contemporary American society.

Hernández’s story begins around age five, when she is enrolled in Catholic school in New Jersey. She speaks only Spanish as the child of a Cuban father and Colombian mother, and she remembers feeling alienated and markedly different from her predominantly white peers. This becomes a common theme in Hernández’s memoir—though it features many threads of common themes, like adolescence and coming of age, there is a notable difference in her experience because of her upbringing and the assimilation that she experienced as a Hispanic woman living in white America.

Hernandez spends a lot of time introducing her mother and father and talking about the environment in which she was raised, which was a melting pot of Hispanic cultures and American ideologies. Her parents were both religious, but their beliefs came not from their lives in America, but were a kind of hodge-podge belief system from their home countries. As such, Hernández attended Catholic school but was surrounded by candles, mysticism, saints, card readers, and priests, among other religious iconography.

Hernández also realizes early on in her memoir that she feels relatively ambivalent about her first language, Spanish. Though she aspires to become a writer and works hard in school, particularly on her reading and writing assignments, she feels much more at home writing in English. There is a kind of guilt that comes along with this, and Hernández writes about the loss that comes from assimilating into a new culture. She writes about the realization that she exists between two cultures, a Spanish one and an English one, and that in choosing both, there is a loss of both and an alienation from both. This middle ground, she quickly realizes, could be an uncomfortable place to live.

But there is much more to Hernández’s book than just the pains of multiculturalism. Hernández writes about her father’s alcoholism and sometimes violent temper, and the ways she often felt stifled as a child and teenager, particularly in terms of her sexuality. The entire second section of the novel focuses on her coming out as a bisexual woman and coming to terms with her own sexuality despite her parents’ inability to understand. In a household where nobody talked about sex—especially not in a way that made it seem positive—Hernández writes about turning to Cosmo and Judy Blume to learn about the pleasures of an orgasm and the complicated nature of sexuality. She learned from there, namely, that sex doesn’t have to be with men, and that in her philosophy of life, sex was good and not shameful. This belief, however, wasn’t shared by her family members, who expressed incredible disappointment whenever Hernández dated women, and then repaired their relationship with her whenever she dated cisgender men.

In the final section of Hernández’s memoir, she writes about work, workplace bias, and racism. She writes also about the intoxicating sense of freedom that comes with a brand-new credit card, a sense of wealth that she never found in childhood. There is a significant amount of distance between the lives of her white coworkers and Hernández’s own life—her coworkers talk about welfare reform with a sneer as Hernández reflects on her parents, who don’t have jobs or only work part time and struggle to find work. The sense of alienation here is similar to that in other sections of the book, though it takes a different shape than the more adolescent discoveries of earlier sections.

A Cup of Water Under My Bed was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2014 by Kirkus Review. It also won the IPPY Award for Best Coming-of-Age Memoir, the Bi Writers Association Book Award for Non-Fiction, and was a finalist for the Judy Grahn Award for lesbian nonfiction, among other honors. In addition to writing A Cup of Water Under My Bed, Daisy Hernández coedited Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. She has written for NPR, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, and other publications. She is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at Miami University in Ohio.