"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"--
“Generally speaking, gay people come out of the closet, straight people walk around the closet, and bisexuals have to be told to look for the closet. We are too preoccupied with shifting.”
Daisy Hernández, A Cup of Water Under My Bed
A Cup of Water Under My Bed was chosen by my book club at work (lovingly named El Barrio Book Club). The memoir was heartfelt, witty, honest and full of sentiment. I truly enjoyed the vivid vignettes Hernández's provided throughout the book. I found myself reminiscing quite a lot. As a first-generation Dominican-American, I appreciate and cherish being part of two cultures. I love the United States and I love the Dominican Republic (DR) . . . However, my traditions are pretty much all Dominican (with a es-prinkle of American) because of my parents -- especially my mom. This woman did not play around and meant business! I was born in the US, but Spanish was my first language. Once I learned English, I was not allowed to speak it at home until I was around thirteen years old. Also, every year until the age of nine, I traveled to DR with my abuela (Mama). Some of my fondest childhood memories are from those amazing summer trips. Many of Hernández's anecdotes reminded me of my childhood. I too had to translate and interpret for family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and my dad). Interestingly, my parents worked at a glass factory for many years until it closed. I appreciated Hernández's candid writing especially on common taboo subjects in Latino households. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and highly recommend it. Hernández gives readers a front row seat to her childhood and early experiences as a queer and feminist Latina.
Although labeled a "memoir", it's really a collection of essays, most of which have been published elsewhere. As a result, Hernández' story is not told in a chronological way, but rather in themes. It works.
Her parents were both immigrants to New York, her father from Cuba, her mother from Colombia. So Hernández grew up in multiple cultures, and these essays describe how she navigated divides of language, class, gender, sexuality, and came to appreciate and admire her family even as she moved into a life very different from theirs, a transition so common to first-generation Americans.
She has a real ear for language, particularly descriptive language. Her contrasting descriptions of two santeras, for instance: "La Viejita María is a woman who looks like dried corn. Her face is a light yellow, the skin dry and wrinkled; her white hair like a husk, with silk threads pulled back and running wild around her head" annd "Yvette is a woman who looks like a church bell. Her copper body curves with purpose, angles on a chair as if from a tower overlooking a village by the sea." Language for her is music: "The women in my family insist that I translated in those years, that I was the song between Tía Dora and the nurse . . . danced from English to Spanish and Spanglish and back again, following the music of questions . . ."