A Cup of Water Under My Bed

by Daisy Hernández

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"Condemned" and Part One Summary

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Last Updated on April 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1350


The narrator and author, Daisy Hernández, recalls a time when a town official visited her family’s home in New Jersey and declared that it should be condemned. Her mother, who spoke only Spanish, did not understand.

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She declares her intention in writing her memoir, which is to understand and tell the stories of her mother, her father, and her aunts, and to do so “without the mancha of a white man who thought our lives and our stories should be bulldozed.”


Daisy has been nicely dressed by her mother to await, with other Cuban children, a station wagon which will take them to Holy Family Catholic School in Union City, New Jersey. Her kindergarten teacher is Miss Reynolds; she speaks in English, a language with which Daisy is slightly familiar, but does not really speak. The first two years of school are like this.

One day, a teacher comes to take Daisy and her friend from class; the friend begins to cry and fight, but Daisy does not resist. The two girls are shown cards intended to teach them English.

Before going to Holy Family, Daisy lived a Spanish-speaking life in Union City. Her father spoke Cuban Spanish; the “Puertorriqueno” her Tía Rosa had married spoke differently. Her mother spoke Colombian Spanish. Spanish was the language of home, of complaining mothers and of drunken fathers playing cards.

It is the 1980s and Colombia is at war, so Daisy’s mother, Alicia, sends money home to her family. Daisy, her mother, and her father travel to other Spanish-speaking places in the United States, including Hialeah, Florida, and Queens, New York.

At first, Daisy’s schoolwork is “unsatisfactory,” but after nine months, she has improved. Alicia signs the report cards, although she cannot read them. Alicia asks her daughter to show off her English on the cassette tapes she records to send home, and the pair count together.

Daisy has learned considerable English by the end of kindergarten. At home, however, everything remains in Spanish.

In 1982, the family moves north to a two-story house in Fairview, New Jersey, a largely white town. Mr. Hernández works in a factory, and Alicia sews. Daisy begins at a new school where all of the students are white.

Alicia’s sisters—Tía Dora, Tía Rosa, and Tía Chuchi, who were all schoolteachers in Colombia—move to the United States, where they perform menial jobs. They correct Daisy’s Spanish, which has begun to go awry, especially in terms of vocabulary. Tía Rosa protectively says that their niece is “Americana.”

Daisy begins “resenting” Spanish when she realizes she cannot share her schoolwork with her mother if she does not know the Spanish for things, such as the word “Pilgrim.” She begins to feel that she must “hate” Spanish in order to become properly immersed in her English life. She speaks to her little sister, Liliana, in English and watches English television. At the age of nine, Daisy incurs an F on a report card, and her father tells her that she needs to study so that she can be better than her parents.

In the fourth grade, Daisy is targeted again for additional English instruction, and this time, she develops an “affection” for the language. She begins reading many books in English and decides she would like to be a writer.

In high school, Mrs. Spielvogel, Daisy’s English teacher, sets in her mind the idea that she should go to Europe one day. Daisy’s father buys her a typewriter.

After college, Daisy enters the book publishing industry, opening mail, writing rejection letters, and proofreading. There is sick pay and paid vacation, to Alicia’s delight. It is a good job, but Daisy begins to feel a sense of loss and registers for a Spanish class with others of similar upbringing. The teacher corrects their “Spanglish” words and their English syntax. For the first time, Daisy begins reading in Spanish.

When, as a student journalist, Daisy returns to the site of her Catholic school in Union City, she finds it has now “grown brown, Spanish, indigenous.”

Alicia used to tell stories of her life in Colombia in the 1960s. As a teenager, Alicia left her mother to stitch in a factory with women who were far worldlier than her. At twenty-eight, unmarried, she was invited to go to New Jersey for a month to make money. She stayed far longer; the money does not grow on trees, as she was promised, and the factory work is hard. But she meets her husband, a Cuban, and marries him. While pregnant, she goes to Canada. This enables her to claim she has been “out of the country” so that her Cuban American husband can sponsor her for a visa.

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At the age of nine, Daisy tries to teach her mother English, but there is always something distracting Alicia, some greater demand on her time.

For a time, Alicia writes to her family, but the letters do not arrive. Alicia says that the reason it was she who came to the United States was because of the invitation, but Daisy feels there must have been a “boldness” in her which drove her.

After college, Daisy attends a writing workshop run by three Latina feminists at New York University. Through her experience in the workshop, Daisy understands that other immigrants also both hate and love their home culture. She decides to teach her mother about feminism but struggles to convey the idea. She writes instead for Ms. magazine about the difficulties of living between Spanish and English. When she translates it for her mother, Alicia says it makes her feel sad.

Later, however, her mother shows an interest for the first time in a book Daisy is reading. It is about a Chicana: Gloria Anzaldúa, whose family has resided on the Mexico–Texas border for generations. Daisy realizes that her mother already understands about “borderlands.”

Daisy decides to write about her mother’s life. Alicia says her favorite place is London, for its blond children.

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Daisy’s father drinks too much and hides candy in his shed. This seems normal: the family is very Catholic, although Papi doesn’t attend church. His alcoholism causes him to injure himself. Daisy thinks it is because he is “Godless.” Tía Chuchi says that the candy dish is his “santo” and his religion is Santería.

Daisy begins to doubt her faith at fourteen; a car accident breaks her arm and leg, and she feels it is punishment. She learns her father has prayed all night for her. The family lights candles to San Lázaro for her recovery.

Daisy learns from a book the truth about Elegguá, an old god now represented by santos like the candy dish. A santera, a priest in the old religion, comes to visit Daisy’s father and tells him to discuss his feelings with the orishas, or gods.

Tía Chuchi and Daisy visit La Viejita María to have a tarot reading. Maria says that “the money will come,” and indeed, Daisy wins a college scholarship. Women like María, brujas or witches, are myriad in Spanish communities. One, Juana, once asked Daisy to be careful with her father to avoid being beaten, when Daisy was four or five years old.

The santeras and their folk religion prize envidia, or envy, as the answer for many things. Followers of the religion use water to dispel bad energies: a cup of water under the bed, for example, will catch nightmares.

When she is ten, Daisy tries to run away, but her father gently convinces her to stay.

Geralen, Daisy’s friend, wants her future read at age eighteen or nineteen, so they visit Conchita, who talks of powerful protective spirits and a wedding. However, Daisy does not believe Conchita as she believes La Viejita María. Now, she consults a therapist when she needs help, but sometimes it feels inadequate. She thinks about how the santeras may have made her mother feel less alone in the world.

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Part Two Summary