36 pages 1 hour read

Daisy Hernandez

A Cup of Water Under My Bed

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


A Cup of Water Under My Bed is Daisy Hernández’s 2014 coming-of-age story that centers the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The book received Lambda Literary’s Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award in 2015. Hernández was also awarded the IPPY Award (Independent Publisher Book Award) for best coming-of-age memoir, and the book was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award. This memoir highlights the complicated dynamics that shape race, class, gender, and sexual identities within her family and in U.S. society. It spans the 1980s to 1990s and chronicles the author’s life from childhood to young adulthood as a first-generation American and the daughter of immigrants from Colombia and Cuba living in New Jersey. This guide references the 2015 Beacon Press paperback edition.

Content warning: This book includes references to child abuse, instances of anti-LGBTQ+ bias and violence, and negative references to Indigenous people that were experienced by the author.


Hernández writes about her sense of in-betweenness and what it was like to belong to a poor, working-class family during decades that were transformative for the United States. She details her complex relationships with her parents and her aunts. Hernández highlights the conflicted nature of her own identity as a woman who is both American and Latina and the challenge of accepting her ethnicity. Furthermore, she centers her experience as a queer woman in a family that struggled to accept LGBTQ+ people in general and her sexuality in particular. She also reflects on the racism that her family experienced, internalized, and perpetuated. The space her parents and extended family occupy is quite different from her own—a world that her parents wanted her to enter so that her life would be different from and less difficult than theirs. However, her Americanization also pulls Hernández away from her family.

As she distances herself from her family—first culturally and psychologically, and then physically—Hernández gains a sense of her own identity but simultaneously begins her return to her family members. She realizes that she is bisexual. She is not guaranteed to marry the kind of partner her parents want for her: a college-educated American man. Instead, she finds love with women and trans men. She also begins to formally study Spanish, a language that she deliberately rejected in her youth after being moved to English as a Second Language classes in kindergarten.

Hernández launches her career with a position at the New York Times, something in which her parents take pride because it will bring financial security—or so they think. Hernández finds herself overspending to compensate for what she could not have in her youth and to keep up with her middle-class colleagues and friends. The problem becomes so burdensome that she seeks help through a support group as she falls deeper into debt. Her experiences away from home and her writing bring clarity of perspective to her familial experience: “Writing is how I leave my family and how I take them with me” (179).

After becoming disillusioned at the New York Times, Hernández leaves the East Coast for a position with San Francisco-based Colorlines magazine, which focuses on social justice: “[…] Colorlines had a brown man on its cover, and he was not being accused of murder or of beating his wife, and the story was about the arts fueling social justice” (174). Her family “unravel[s]” after her move (177); its members scatter across the US and Colombia. Her parents move to Florida, where her mother starts an alterations business. Her sister moves to Washington, DC. One aunt remains in New Jersey, where she writes her own memoir, another dies, and the third returns to Colombia.