A Cup of Water Under My Bed Summary
A Cup of Water Under My Bed is a memoir by Daisy Hernández.
- Daisy is born to a Cuban American father and a Colombian American mother. During her childhood, her three maternal aunts (or tías) come to live with the family.
- Daisy works at the New York Times before moving to Oakland, California, to write for ColorLines magazine.
- In looking over her life so far, Daisy examines the nature of the American dream for an “Americana,” or someone on the borderland between American and other cultures.
Last Updated on April 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 871
Daisy Hernández was born in the United States to a Cuban father and a Colombian mother. One of her earliest memories is of being taken away to Holy Family Catholic School in Union City, New Jersey, where the teaching is all in English and Daisy struggles to understand. The language of her home life has always been Spanish. Different forms of Spanish are spoken in the streets where the family lives: Cuban, Peruvian, and Colombian, among others. The family visits different Spanish-speaking parts of the United States—and Colombia, where the street children frighten Daisy—so English still feels foreign to Daisy, even though she hears it on the television.
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Daisy’s mother, Alicia, is a seamstress, and her father works in a factory. In 1982, they move to Fairview, which has a smaller Spanish population, and Daisy’s English vocabulary grows as her Spanish vocabulary begins to shrink. Daisy’s aunts—Tía Dora, Tía Rosa, and Tía Chuchi—arrive from Colombia to live with the family, and they criticize her Spanish. At this time, Daisy begins to “resent” Spanish, but years later, after college, she feels a sense of loss and enrolls in a class for others who learned Spanish only through conversation.
Alicia left Colombia in the 1960s for New Jersey and met her husband in the United States. She writes to her family in Colombia for many years but never learns good English. Daisy tries to teach her mother English; she also, after college, tries to teach Alicia about feminism. Alicia is interested in the stories Daisy reads about other Chicanas—those, like the writer Gloria Anzaldúa, who live in the “borderlands” between cultures.
Daisy’s father drinks too much and spends a lot of time in his shed. At first, Daisy doesn’t understand why he doesn’t go to church with them and thinks it is because he is “Godless” that he is a drunkard; later, however, she learns that he follows a folk religion, whose priests, the santeras, read tarot and encourage Mr. Hernández to discuss his feelings with the household gods. Daisy herself is taken to have a tarot reading, and she begins to understand the value of this folk religion to women like her mother, who have entered the country from war-torn places like Colombia.
Julio, a Colombian, is Daisy’s first boyfriend. She meets him at sixteen and does not sleep with him until after her high school graduation, heeding her aunts’ and mother’s warnings about the dangers of men. In college, she attends a feminist workshop and realizes that she is bisexual. When she tells her mother this, it causes a rift in the family, as Daisy’s aunts in particular disapprove.
Tía Dora stops speaking to Daisy. Dora first came to the United States to seek treatment for a parasite in her stomach; she seems to think of Daisy’s queerness as a parasite of its own. When Daisy is twenty-five, Dora calls her, after several years of no communication. Dora has heard that Daisy is dating Alejandro; she does not realise that Alejandro is a trans man. Daisy, not wanting to lose her aunt again, does not tell her, and the pair continue their relationship against the backdrop of a code of silence.
After college, Daisy, who has never understood credit, begins to spend a lot of money. Her relationship with money is very different from that of her parents, who are terrified of debt. Daisy’s father came to the United States in the early 1960s but has struggled for work since the 1980s, when factories began to close. It has always been Daisy’s responsibility to help him file his unemployment and collect his checks.
Through a professor at New York University, Daisy acquires an internship at the New York Times. At twenty-seven, she moves out of the family home to live in New York, close to her job. She finds journalism interesting, but also very depressing, and she eventually leaves the New York Times, not knowing what will come next but feeling it will not be what her mother expected for her.
Daisy eventually heads for Oakland, California, to write for the magazine ColorLines. Back at home, Tía Dora is distressed when, in 2004, gay marriage is legalized in California. Daisy’s friends ask why she remains in contact with her homophobic family, but Daisy feels “some stitches cannot be undone.”
The family eventually spreads far and wide. Daisy’s younger sister moves to Washington, DC. Rosa returns to Colombia and Chuchi to her own apartment. Dora dies after an abdominal surgery. Daisy’s parents move to Florida, where Alicia sets up her own business performing clothing alterations. Papi grows vegetables in their garden. Tía Chuchi begins writing a memoir.
Daisy began life believing in the American dream, as her parents did. As an adult, she realizes that there is no such thing as a straightforward trajectory in life. Our lives intersect, and our journeys are continually changing. However, Daisy feels she has at least conveyed something of what it is like to be an “Americana”: not wholly one thing or the other, on the borderland between cultures.