‘A Cup of Water Under My Bed’ by Daisy Hernández
Author: Julie R. Enszer
September 27, 2014
If you yearn for thoughtful, truth-filled, and honest writing about US racism that is sharp and righteous, read Colorlines. ColorLines exemplifies progressive journalism with a racial justice lens. From 2004 through 2010, Daisy Hernández helped build Colorlines. Working as a writer and editor, Hernández, with a team of activist journalists, migrated the print magazine from its quarterly publication to its current incarnation as a powerful online news journal characterized by incisive analysis. If you care about racial justice news, subscribe to the Colorlines feed.
If you want an intimate account of the experience of being a bisexual woman of color committed to racial justice, read Hernández’s new memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed. A Cup of Water Under My Bed weaves stories organized into three sections: growing up as the child of immigrants in New Jersey, experiencing sexuality with power and peril, and living race amid US racism in the twenty-first century.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed is organized thematically more than chronologically, and it gains its power through poetic language. For example, to convey the nuances of sexuality, Hernández describes finding consonance with a lover as “he’s a prose poem; I’m a vignette.” Even though “he doesn’t look anything like me,” he “feels like me.” Hernández deploys metaphoric language with care to render the world in which she lives. Her chapter about money, race, and power, “Only Rico’s Have Credit,” is beautiful, and one of the few clear-eyed analyses about credit and money told from the perspective of a young woman.
One of the most powerful elements in A Cup of Water Under My Bed is the second section on sexuality. Hernández talks about sexuality with grace; her deft hand with language, imagery, and emotion create an internal world that is both intimate and achingly beautiful. Describing what she learned about sex as a teenager, Hernández writes:
My best friend and I spend our teenage summers reading Judith Krantz novels and watching porn videos from her father’s collection. We see that women can have sex in swimming pools and hotel rooms and even on a spaceship. They can do it with different men and with each other. I observe this, analyze it, and come to my final conclusion: sex is good.
Hernández’s writing about sexuality is some of the finest that I have read recently. She describes bisexuality “as if I am learning that I can shift my weight from one leg to the other, that I have a second leg. Kissing women is like discovering a new limb.” She holds firmly to bisexuality without shame, uncertainty or concern—even in the face of lesbian skepticism. She maps the space of transgender identities as a bisexual femme partnering with trans* lovers in ways that are fresh and interesting.
While she greets her bisexuality with glee, her family does not. Hernández struggles with her mother and her beloved tias (aunts): “it is hard, I imagine for people who have not experienced this to understand the weight of that silence and how the absence of language can feel like a death.”
Written in the tradition of great feminist memoirs, like Audre Lorde’s Zami and Minnie Bruce Pratt’s S/HE, while nodding, particularly in the first section, to Sandra Cisneros’s extraordinary House on Mango Street, Hernández’s A Cup of Water Under My Bed explores race, gender, and sexuality with beauty and grace. Mapping hybrid spaces, Hernández explores what it means to be a Latina through multiple ethnicities (her mother is Colombian and her father is Cuban), multiple religious traditions, and with multiple sexual desires.
Where Colorlines is righteous and direct in helping readers think about race in the United States in new ways, A Cup of Water Under My Bed is lyrical and understated. If Hernández’s A Cup of Water Under My Bed and Alexis De Veaux’s recent hybrid novel, Yabo, are any indication, there is a flowering of feminist, queer of color writing happening right now. Hernández holds questions of race and justice at the center of this book, but never sacrifices beauty. Ultimately, that combination is what makes A Cup of Water Under My Bed haunting and powerful. Pick up this book for both its pleasures and provocations.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed
By Daisy Hernández
Paperback, 9780807014486, 185 pp.