Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Cup of Water Under My Bed: a memoir by Daisy Hernandez - Book Review

A Cup of Water Under My Bed: AMemoir by Daisy Hernandez (Beacon Press, 2014, 201 Pages, $24.96/13.99) is a coming of age memoir of growing up in a contemporary immigrant family encountering all the joys, problems, anxieties, opportunities, and risks of our complex and multi-layered society. Hernandez' luminous prose touches the heart while challenging the mind to expand and understand. She takes the reader to many places that challenge the comfort zone, especially of comfortable middle-class readers. Her subject matter ranges widely through the worlds of religion, sexuality, social mobility, education, race, class,
immigration and self-knowledge to explore their implications for a young woman growing up in today's United States.

Daisey Hernandez is the child of parents who have come from Columbia and Cuba seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Speaking little English, clinging to their work ethic and family, they are torn from their roots while seeking to support themselves and their close knit families, both in the U.S. and at home. Daisy's father works as a maintenance man in textile factories, while there's still work in New Jersey, and then recedes into increasingly difficult to find labor as jobs leave for Mexico and Asia. Her mother works in clothing assembly, first in sweat shops and later at home. Daisy becomes the link to America for them as, once she enters school, she begins to increase her facility with English, learning that her Spanglish is neither English nor Spanish and finally, as an adult in search of her roots, returning to class to formally learn Spanish in written and proper spoken forms. She's a precocious and thoughtful child who finds wonder, mystery, and meaning in the world around her, composed of bewildering sets of values assailing her from all sides. She's fortunate enough to find people who recognize her talents and mentor her towards advancement and self-awareness, while drawing her further away from the roots that cling to her and to which she is both drawn and repulsed.

Acculturation is a double edged sword, providing hope for the future of individuals and, truly, society. However, there are serious attendant risks attached. Daisy, her parents, and her aunties form a closely knit unit which teaches and smothers. Acculturation means separating from those elements of one's life which mark difference, otherness. For many immigrants to America, particularly these days for people of Hispanic origin, their faces mark them, as color, religion, accent, and behavior have always marked “otherness.” Daisy, raised in Catholic schools, discovers that her culture has created a synthesis between Christianity and the Afro-Latin fusion practice of Santeria, often described as a cult. She seeks, and finds, a way to reconcile the two practices into a believable and valid part of her life. As a young women in a vibrant and changing society, she discovers that sexuality and gender identification offer many, often confusing, paths to satisfaction, which she joyfully explores. As a writer, Daisy discovers herself through her writing at places like Ms Magazine and as an intern at the New York Times, where she finds both the allure of the Times' power and pervasiveness of the middle aged white male in controlling her. As a student and a seeker, she learns that language widens opportunity and separates from community. A Cup of Water Under My Bed, an allusion to a Santeria practice, proves itself to be a voyage of discovery in all these areas and more.

Daisy Hernandez

Daisy Hernandez grew up in Fairview, New Jersey in a Cuban-Columbian family. She's worked at the New York Times, Jenny Craigs, McDondald's and ColorLines​ magazine, although not in that order) and has made her home in Virginia, Florida, California, England, and the Upper East Side (also not in that order). She is the author of A Cup ofWater Under My Bed: A Memoirand co-editor of the feminist anthology Colonize This! Young Women of Color in Today's Feminism.” Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter, Ms. Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Fourth Genre, and Bellingham Review. A former editor of ColorLines magazine, shehas an MFA in fiction from the University of Miami, an MA in Latin American Studies and Journalism from NYU. Her work has been seen as controversial in some areas. (adapted from her profile and Wikipedia)

In her book A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernandez (Beacon Press, 2014, 201 Pages, $24.96/13.99) Daisy Hernandez has filed of her anger even rage under luminous and thought-provoking prose without ever compromising the basic feminist values she has developed. She allows a reader, even one not always sympathetic with her views or understanding her orientation, to see into her experience, share it, and develop a greater appreciation of it without pushing the reader away. This is a rare and wonderful gift, and Hernandez shares her own wonder at her growth and challenges about where she comes from and where she's going with her reader generously. The fact that she's a seeker rather than a knower, a person still scoping life out with insight and courage makes A Cup of Water Under My Bed a fascinating and enjoyable read. I received the book as an electronic galley from the publisher through Edelweiss and read it on my Kindle.