Saying Goodbye To The Kojo Nnamdi Show
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Growing up between cultures as a Cuban-Colombian immigrant near New York City, Daisy Hernandez’s working-class family wants her “to become white,” successful and Americanized. Daisy struggled to fulfill her parents’ dreams for her, while reconciling her dual heritage and her bisexuality. We speak with the author about her new memoir and her writing on feminism and women of color.
Excerpted from A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernández, (Beacon Press, 2014). Excerpted with permission by Beacon Press.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Supreme Court signals that it will not uphold state bans on gay marriage. Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring joins us to explore what it means for the Commonwealth.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut, first, Daisy Hernandez grew up between two cultures. Raised in northern New Jersey by her Cuban father and Colombian mother, she tries to fulfill her family's dream that she assimilate and succeed. That means going to college and, in the best possible scenario, marrying a college-educated gringo. In college, however, she discovers her sexuality doesn't fit neatly into a box nor into her family's expectations. Joining us from studios at WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., is Daisy Hernandez. She's a journalist and author most recently of, "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." Daisy Hernandez, thank you for joining us.
MS. DAISY HERNANDEZThank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
NNAMDIIf you would like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Did you or your parents come to this country as an immigrant. What challenges did you face? 800-433-8850. Was your sexuality an issue for your family or in the culture that you come from? You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Daisy Hernandez, you grew up between two worlds. Tell us a little bit about your family and your childhood in Fairview, N.J.
HERNANDEZSure. I grew up, as you said, with Cuban father and Colombian mother, and with three aunties who are in the memoir, very lively, opinionated women who had ideas about how I should behave as the young, appropriate lady, with sort of ideas that they'd brought from Colombia from many years before. And I also grew up with some other forms of Spanish -- Puerto Rican Spanish, Peruvian Spanish, so grew up in sort of a Latino, Diaspora, if you will. And there were a lot of ideas about how I should behave. And I outlined that a little bit in the book. I chronicled the experience of my rebellions against that.
NNAMDIYou're sent to Catholic schools as a child, but you eventually discovered that your parents practice something else. Can you talk about your relationship with religion and what you eventually learned about your parents and their beliefs?
HERNANDEZSure. Yeah. I went through 12 years of Catholic school actually. And for a good chunk of that, I was a very devoted Catholic student, loved Catholicism, as I write about in the book. But I also noticed that there were some other things that were happening in my home that I didn't quite understand. There was a, what looked to me like a candy dish that was always being hidden from me. And when one of my mother's sisters came from Colombia, through her stories, I found out that my father was actually practicing the Afro-Cuban religion known as Regla de Ochoa or Santeria, which is a more popular name for it in the U.S.
HERNANDEZAnd the whole time, I had thought he was godless. And I had sort of attributed a lot of the problems between us -- the father-daughter relationship -- to him not having a god. But I actually found out what that candy dish is actually a orisha or a spirit from the religion. And it was quite the surprise for me, as you can imagine.
NNAMDIAnd therefore related to the title of your book. Can you tell us where that title comes from, "A Cup of Water Under My Bed"?
HERNANDEZYes. I initially thought that this was a practice that was only related with this Afro-Cuban religion. And the idea is that, if you're having a hard time sleeping or having some nightmares or restless sleep, you can put a cup of water under your bed to catch the spirits that might be bothering you. To -- I always had the image, as I write in the book, that sort of whatever bad images were coming into my mind were kind of slipping through the pillowcase and down into that cup of water and being drowned somehow. But, of course, since then, I have found out that throughout Latin America, people have the same practice and readers have been connecting with me and telling me the stories from their own families.
HERNANDEZI talked to one young man whose grandmother from Mexico would put a raw egg, after sweeping it over him, put the raw egg into the water and put that under the bed. And in the morning you, of course, throw out that water. Because now it's holding sort of evil energies of some kind. And another woman who uses a lemon, like if you cut up the lemon and put it in the water, and after a few days her grandmother would say, you see, it's rotting now. You know, it's got the evil energies. And my friend would say, "No, it's actually just rotting." But, you know, it's all interpretation.
NNAMDIWe're talking, in case you're just joining us, with Daisy Hernandez. She's a journalist and author most recently of "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." She joins us from studios in North Carolina. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Is English your second language. What was it like learning it? You can also send us an email to email@example.com. Daisy Hernandez, the dividing line between cultures was also clearly reflected in language. I'd like to talk about that. But, first, if you can, would you read from page 11 of your book about this?
HERNANDEZYes. Absolutely. "This is how Spanish starts annoying me. I suppose it's what happens when you're young and frustrated, but you can't be angry at the white teachers because that would get you nowhere, and you can't be too upset with your parents because they want what they think is best for you. Spanish is flaca and defenseless, so I start pushing her around, then hating her. She's like an auntie who talks louder than everyone else, who wears perfume that squeezes your nostrils. I want her to stop embarrassing me. I want her to go away."
HERNANDEZ"That's how the blame arrives. I blame Spanish for the fact that I don't know more words in English. I blame her for how bad I feel when the white teachers look at me with some pity in their eyes. I blame Spanish for the hours my mother has to work at the factory. "If only I knew English..." my mother starts, and then her voice trails because none of us, not her, not even La Tia Chuchi, who knows everything about everyone, knows what would happen if only my mother knew English. I am the one who is supposed to find out."
HERNANDEZ"But to make that leap, to be the first in the family to leave for another language hurts. It's not a broken arm kind of hurt. It's not abrupt like that. It's gradual, like a parasite, a bug crawling in your stomach that no one else can see but that gives you a fever and makes you nauseous. Because I have to leave Spanish, I have to hate it. That makes the departure bearable. And so I never learned to read or to write the language."
HERNANDEZ"I never learned more than the words my family and I need to share over the course of a day -- pasame la toalla, la comida ya esta -- and the words spoken on the nightly news, the telenovelas, Radio Wado, and Sabado Gigante, which all combined leave me with a peculiar vocabulary of words in Spanish about dinner foods, immigration law, romantic fantasy, and celebrity gossip."
NNAMDIDaisy Hernandez, reading from her book called "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." We might imagine your experiences as growing up comfortable with two cultures. But it isn't quite that simple, is it?
HERNANDEZIt's not. Especially as a very young person, you are always trying to sort of find your place in the world. I think that's sort of the center of every coming-of-age experience. And so when you have two languages, and I would say sometimes Spanglish as a third language, there's a lot to negotiate and sort of challenges about where to find yourself and where to sort of feel that you have a sense of home.
NNAMDIYour parents' expectations for you, what did they want?
HERNANDEZYeah. My parents both worked in factories. They're part of that what I would call last generation that was able to come to the United States and find factory work with -- in my dad's case, with union, being part of a union. And they very much wanted me to go to college and, as my dad says, to not end up like him working in factories. But of course, these are my role models at the same time. So I very much do want to become like them. So there's sort of an inherent contradiction in there.
NNAMDIYou mentioned them earlier, I'll mention them again -- the women in your extended family who were a huge influence on you. Can you talk a little bit more about them? Who was in your life growing up?
HERNANDEZYeah. My mother's three sisters came over the years after her. She was able to bring them and do different forms of family reunification. And they were la tia Rosa, la tia Chuchi, (sp?) and my tia Dora. And they had all been school teachers in their country, so one of the first things that they wanted to do with me was to fix my Spanish, though it was quickly deteriorating. So there's a lot of lessons -- there's some lessons that I write about in the book about their efforts to save me from Spanglish. And then they also had, of course, ideas about, you know, who I should be dating and the idea that I would even date a Colombian man was so strange. They had sort of left an entire country to avoid that.
NNAMDIThat's the part that I like. I'd like to ask you to actually read about that from page 75 in your book. Would you, please?
HERNANDEZSure. And leading up to this, I should say a little bit that I -- at this point in the story, I have started dating a Colombian man. And they've been looking at me like, what are you doing? We wanted you to marry a nice gringo, as you said earlier. And so they had been schooling me in sort of all of the reasons why you wouldn't want to marry a Colombian man. And so these were some of -- they started to sound a little bit like fairy tales -- bad fairy tales of some kind. So this is -- were their lessons.
HERNANDEZ"My mother and aunties advised me on what to look for in love. A man with a college degree is best but choose white over black because no one sees the diploma on the street and churches and at the supermercados. Forget Caribbean men. They want sex all the time, speak Spanish with missing syllables, and if they are not black, their grandmothers might be. Forget Central Americans. They want sex all the time, do now grow any taller, and if they are not Indios, their grandmothers might be. Consider Argentinians. They want sex all the time but most are white, have law degrees, and if they are not Italian, their grandmothers might be."
HERNANDEZ"Remember to ask if he grew up in the Capital or some no-name campo. It is the difference between marrying the Bronx and Fort Lee." And I should probably add that Fort Lee is a coveted place. Maybe not to people outside of New Jersey.
HERNANDEZBut it was -- when I was growing up, it was considered a wealthier neighborhood and a sort of suburb that you would aspire to.
NNAMDIYou did end up dating a gringo, as your family wanted. But around that time, you start exploring your sexuality in a new dimension. Can you talk about what was going on for you at that time?
HERNANDEZYes. I was in college. I was meeting feminists for the first time. I was also meeting women who identified as lesbians for the first time. And up until then, I had never met anyone who was out, as a queer woman, either lesbian or bisexual. I had obviously known that this was a possibility. And I realized that that was something I wanted to explore for myself. And it had never really occurred to me which sometimes, as I write in the book, sort of, friends find it a little strange.
HERNANDEZBut I think that while gay people and lesbians sort of come out of the closet, bisexuals have to kind of be told to look for the closet because we sort of have more fluid experiences in some ways around our sexual experiences. So it doesn't -- at least in my case and other people that I've spoken with -- it doesn't always seem as obvious as maybe it should be to people who are straight and gay.
NNAMDIThere are callers who want to talk to you, so hold on the line for a second. I will get to the callers but there's one more reading that I would like to have Daisy Hernandez do from her memoir, "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." 800-433-8850. We still have a few lines open. What was -- was your sexuality an issue for your family? Or in the culture you come from, is English your second language? What was it like learning it? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. We will get to the calls. Or you can shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIDaisy Hernandez, despite learning about life and love from the women in your family, you didn't exactly have that "birds and the bees" conversation with your mother and your aunts. Can you do one more reading for us from page 77?
HERNANDEZYes. And that is a very good way to preface this. I did not have the "birds and the bees" conversation at home. "The women in my family do not talk to me about sex. And women's magazines do not mention poverty or race. My mother and tias tell me that men either work for you or they do not. Romance happens between 7:00 and 9:00 in the evening on Spanish soap operas. Sex comes later. But at the library, I read the truth about multiple organisms in Cosmo. I rely on a library-copy of Judy Bloom's novel "Forever" to tell me that I can have sex with a boy and not marry him. Something else can happen between a broken hymen and baby showers. College and a career of course but mostly it will be a lot of sex.
HERNANDEZMy best friend and I spent 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. By the time I watch women have sex with each other on my friend's 19" TV set, I have already heard about women like them.
HERNANDEZI am ten years old and sitting at the kitchen table when a friend of my mother's tells her and the tias the latest (word?) . A woman they all know from the neighborhood has left her husband and her children to be with another woman. Gasps make their way around the kitchen table where cafe con leche is being served. Do you believe it? No, she's that way? I never would've thought it. Everyone is shocked that a woman who was so moved by love that it flung her into the arms of another woman.
HERNANDEZI, for one, find it terribly romantic. It's like a Harlequin Romance novel but without the stoic rich guy, or like Romeo and Juliet but without the suicides. Two women in love confirms for me that there is love that can push you beyond what everyone else says is possible. I am also not sure why the women in my family are so startled about a woman going off with another mujer. Besides discussing how Colombian men don't work. All they ever do at home is talk about women."
NNAMDIDaisy Hernandez reading from "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." We're going to take a short break and when we get back, it's onto the phones, so you can call now, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring about the Supreme Court's decision yesterday not to hear cases on gay marriage. But right now we're talking with Daisy Hernandez. She's a journalist and author most recently of "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." We will go directly to the phones. Here is Dominique in Washington, D.C. Dominique, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOMINIQUEThank you so much.
DOMINIQUESo, yeah, I met Daisy at a national journalist event here in D.C. And I have not read your book yet, but I'm looking forward to reading it. And I just -- my mother was a Cuban immigrant. She came to this country when she was ten years old. And where I grew up, I grew up in Connecticut. I go to school here in D.C. at George Washington University but I grew up in Connecticut in a very small colonial town.
DOMINIQUEAnd, you know, I was probably the blackest kid in my class just because there were -- everyone around me was white. You know, there was really no Cuban diaspora where I came from. So the difficulty for me was figuring out kind of like what it is to be a foreigner. And my mom made the best effort. You know, she wanted to raise me in a bilingual home. My dad is a gringo. But I grew up in a bilingual home speaking Spanish and English. And I'm very grateful for that because I appreciate it so much more.
DOMINIQUEAnd then there were other smaller diasporas in Connecticut. When I went to high school there were girls who were from Bridgeport who had this, you know, Puerto Rican diaspora around them. They felt very Puerto Rican. And sometimes in high school, I would say to myself, I really don't feel like Cuban. I feel like American. I feel, you know, I don't know what I feel. So, you know, that really...
NNAMDIYou didn't -- you weren't surrounded by that extended family of aunts telling you how to live your love life.
DOMINIQUENo. Unfortunately, no, I wasn't. I actually -- all of my Cuban relatives actually lived down in Miami and all my Italian relatives on my dad's side lived up in Connecticut. So I was -- I grew up -- you know, when I would go down to Miami and see, you know, the Little Havana that is Miami there, I would understand a little bit more about what it is to be Cubana. But, yeah, my grandparents, all of my mom's relatives are down in...
NNAMDISo you are likely to learn about a life that you did not have when you read "A Cup of Water Under My Bed."
NNAMDIOkay. Care to comment on that, Daisy Hernandez?
HERNANDEZYeah, well, you know, I actually do relate to her experience. I think what was a little different with my family was I did have those extended aunties. I absolutely feel grateful that my parents did not speak English. Because if they would've spoken English at home I think I would've completely have lost Spanish. So I do have this sort of interesting, you know, Spanglish, an interesting relationship with Spanish as a result of that.
HERNANDEZAnd that's -- oh, I've made those migrations to Miami too and it's like the closest we can get to Cuba. So I've done the 28-hour bus ride with 30 other Cuban women. Where I did relate is sort of finding your diaspora overtime as well. That's something that I saw my mother and my aunties doing with finding other Colombian women in this community that they could connect with.
HERNANDEZAnd it's something that when I went -- I did go to a predominantly white school -- I immediately found the other Latinas at the school. So we had a little group that was Chileans, Argentinas, Peruvians, Ecuadoreans, sort of a mix of people. And what we had in common often was that relationship to language and to our culture.
NNAMDIDominique, thank you very much for your call. Daisy Hernandez, back to the extended family of aunts that you were talking about, what was it therefore like telling your family that you were bisexual?
HERNANDEZYeah, that was a really important part for me to write about the book because I think that there are so many images in the media and in general that people have about the Latino community just being completely homophobic. But I think the Latino families are very similar to mine, have a sort of range of reactions. So as I write in the book, the first person that I told was my mother -- actually that's the only person I had to tell because, you know, we have the kind of family where once you've told one person, everyone knows the next day.
NNAMDIYes. That's how a secret is defined in families from the Caribbean like mine, yes.
HERNANDEZExactly. So I only had to tell her and she -- and her reaction was shock and the idea that bisexuality and lesbians did not exist in Colombia. And at that point she had not been in Colombia in 27 years.
NNAMDIBut she knew, right.
HERNANDEZAs I pointed out to her, but she felt really sure about this. You know, I had another auntie who did stop speaking to me for a number of years. As long as I was in a relationship with a woman, she would not speak to me. I had another auntie who, you know, as I was going through a breakup, really helped me and helped me to laugh and put things into some weird perspective. So -- and I had another auntie who just kind of had denial. She was just like, I absolutely love you. Eat more and those other aunties are saying terrible things about you. Don 't listen to them.
HERNANDEZSo -- and I think that's just an experience that in both Latino communities and I think in a lot of communities people experience just a range of reactions from family members.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here's Beatrice in Silver Spring, Md. Beatrice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BEATRICEYes. Hello. Thank you very much, Kojo, and thank you Daisy, for the book. I look forward to reading it. I wanted to make a comment about English as a second language. I grew up in Italy so raised by two Italian parents. And then I was sent to -- when I was in sixth grade to an American school. And I completely lost the sixth grade. I don't remember a thing. I was -- I couldn't understand anything so that was interesting.
BEATRICEAnd then for a long time throughout high school I kept taking English as a second language and was very frustrated that I couldn't move up. But it seemed like I had to learn it and, you know, just stay behind in some ways. And then eventually made it to the states and language has so much to do with identity, who you -- what you speak and who you are and who you identify with. And so got out of English as a second language but here I certainly could not identify it with Italian Americans either.
BEATRICESo it is interesting what you pointed out in your own experience as a Latino. And it applies to so many immigrant communities here in the states, finding a place for identity through language.
NNAMDIJust curiosity, Beatrice, why do you feel that you couldn't find a place among Italian Americans here?
BEATRICEWell, Italian Americans in the states maybe have come many generations before. And the experiences are not the same for all immigrants, where they come from in Italy, how many generations had been here. I have a daughter here who is actually Kenyan. And I have a hard time speaking Italian to her because she will always reply to me in English. So that's also an issue because I would love to share my Italian language skills. And I wonder what she's going to identify herself as. Is she African? Is she Italian? Is she Kenyan? Is she American or...
NNAMDIFascinating question. I'll pose it to Daisy Hernandez. To what extent does language, in a way, define us, Daisy Hernandez?
HERNANDEZOh, it does absolutely. I loved hearing her story because that's been my experience. I think that if I -- you know, I have a very strong sense of myself as a Latina and I think that really comes because we only spoke Spanish at home. And when I did move away from home, moved across the country at one point, you know, I actually -- I started taking Spanish lessons at that point as well. Sort of over time I've taken -- come back to sort of study Spanish in different ways. And I think it's been a really grounding experience. Yeah, so I think it's a really important defining part of identity...
NNAMDIBeatrice -- go ahead, please.
HERNANDEZNo. I was just going to also say that, you know, I think that one of the things that I always encourage younger people to consider is that they don't have to choose among these different identities that they might have. And I'm so glad -- you know, actually when I was very young, my dad used to do this little test with me. Are you Cuban? Are you Colombian? Are you American? And I learned at a really -- like, I was a toddler, I learned to say American. And I couldn't even fully say the right word so I would just say cana, you know, like sort of abbreviate it.
HERNANDEZBut, you know, what I learned, you know, sort of in the growing up is that I didn't have to choose. And I'm so glad that other members of my family didn't pose that question to me relentlessly and allowed me to really claim all of them, all of these cultures. And I write about in the book by the time I went to kindergarten I had traveled to Colombia, I had traveled to different parts of New York City. Of course, I had been to Miami and to New Jersey.
HERNANDEZSo I had this sense that they were all part of the same country. Everyone spoke Spanish in this country. Everyone ate a lot of fried pork, you know. And of course after -- you know, I came to understand national boundaries but for a long time I thought it was sort of all part of the same homeland.
NNAMDIBeatrice, thank you very much for your call. You were introduced to feminism in college and it's part and parcel of your newfound sexuality. Can you talk about how politics, feminism and your sexuality, for you, are connected?
HERNANDEZYeah, as I half joke in the book, when I realized, oh, I want a girlfriend, I said, okay. Well, there's a feminist group on campus. I will go find my new girlfriend there. And I wore my best plaid shirts. I tried to be a little bit of a butch at the time. I am not a butch, but those were the images that I had from media about what it meant to be a woman who dated other women, right.
HERNANDEZAnd, you know, what I found instead was feminism and women's rights and the fact that I could march on campus to protest sexual violence on and off campus. It was such an incredibly empowering experience. And later on I also discovered the work of Gloryann Saldua (sp?) and other feminists of color, Shedi Moraga (sp?) of course, Audre Lorde as well. And that really opened me up in a tremendous way to sort of see the power of the intersections of my different experiences.
HERNANDEZSo whereas before it had been -- perhaps those intersections had been a point of frustration trying to feel that I had to choose one kind of avenue in some way, I now felt like, oh, actually the places where my experiences as a Latina and my experiences of class and race meet is actually a place of empowerment. And that was -- that really is feminism to me.
NNAMDIYou began writing this memoir more than a decade ago. It's not chronological but rather it moves back and forth through time in a very fluid way. How did you end up with this structure for your memoir?
HERNANDEZYeah, that's a great question. I actually initially tried to write them as short stories too. I don't think I mentioned that in the memoir. And that felt really confining because I wanted to be able to take a step back and to reflect on these experiences. You know, I was writing them on and off over the years and so they first sort of came to rise as, you know, individual personal essays. And after a while I saw I have many of these now. And let me see what relationships they have to each other.
HERNANDEZThe style of writing is pretty intuitive to me and I think it really comes from growing up and negotiating different cultures. So there's sort of a -- as you said, not chronological, sort of a hopscotch pattern to the essays that I think I feel really at home in because of the kind of upbringing that I had, and also because of the kind of works that I was attracted to. I loved, of course, Sandra Cisneros' "House on Mango Street" which is sort of -- you could say is a novel in vignette. But also F. Scott Momaday's book "Way to Rainy Mountain" where he tells the story of his people from three different perspectives. Really, really appealed to me. So kind of it was intuitive and it was also sort of the literary influences that I had.
NNAMDIDan in Washington, D.C. has a question about your writing process. Dan, your turn.
DANYeah, I had a chance to hear Daisy read from her memoir before it came out twice. And I was really struck at those sections that were kind of based on her work as a journalist or, you know, sort of kind of her reflecting on say hate crimes case and then sort of beautifully making sort of a kind of self-reflection around identity. And I'm just curious how she navigates her separating those two different but yet complimentary sort of writing styles in her process.
HERNANDEZYeah, it's definitely interesting to be a journalist who moves into memoir. And I definitely have had some great conversations with journalists who are trying to but find it sort of like very shocking. I think I had the benefit that I was writing some of these pieces alongside doing the journalism. So to me it -- you know, it's not like I did journalism for many years and then stopped and started a different kind of writing. So I think that's part of what helped me.
HERNANDEZBut to me, you know, journalism -- very traditional journalism has such an important and wonderful place in our lives. And as a writer there are stories that are different and that haunt you. The story that I write about in the memoir, the murder of a transgender teen by the name of Gwen Araujo in California almost ten years ago now, is one of those stories that haunted me and that I felt I can't do that justice in a traditional news story.
HERNANDEZSo even though I had already written a feature article about what had happened to her and how this town had reacted, her story stayed with me. And I realized I need to explore that in a larger, more intimate way. And so, you know, it's still all of the same tools. You're still obviously reporting and research, all the same tools that you would use from journalism. But then I have that wonderful opportunity to sit down and to reflect about what this means for me, what the connections are, why it's haunting me, why it's absolutely still haunting me as a story. And also to really develop her as a character where sometimes in more traditional feature stories I don't get to develop the person fully as a character inhabiting time and space.
NNAMDIDan, thank you very much for your call. I'd like to shift gears for a moment, Daisy. You recently wrote a piece for Salon.com about your experience working at the New York Times. It's title says a lot, Latina at the White Male New York Times: Why are people thinking it's okay to say race this sh -- I mean, stuff in front of me. Tell us a little bit about that article.
HERNANDEZYeah, that's actually an excerpt from the book. So I didn't write it for them. It was a piece that's actually in the memoir. And I sort of -- you know, I worked at the New York Times about ten years ago now, more than ten years ago, actually eleven years ago. And I left that experience wondering, what happened there? And, you know, I think a lot of memoir and a lot of personal essay comes from that place or that question of, what exactly happened and what does it mean and why is it still staying with me?
HERNANDEZAnd so I started writing about it and it's been really -- it was on Salon about, yeah, a week ago, and it's been really resonating with readers in very intense ways, more than I expected. I'm really happy about it. I think that a lot of people of color of all ages are feeling very affirmed by the piece. They feel like it affirms their experience of being a person of color in a white institution, the kind of racist comments you hear, the kind of structures that are in place that make some of your own work difficult. And so it's actually had a really great reception.
NNAMDIYou write that you had to learn how to speak to white men. You review them almost as an anthropologist would. Can you elaborate and explain why white women were less of a mystery to you?
HERNANDEZSure. And I did that very intentionally in the piece, I should say, because, you know, I've grown up of course, you know, through college and so forth reading very anthropological texts of Latinos and other communities of color. So part of it was wanting to experience the joy of turning the tables a little bit. And as I write in that essay, it was easier to talk to white women because I had been schooled by them. All of my education had primarily been with white women teachers.
HERNANDEZAnd so I felt sort of a certain level of comfort already. But I didn't interact with white men at all. There were no white men in my own family, no gringos. And neither were they educators, necessarily for me. So there was sort of a different way of approaching our conversations -- or so it felt to me. I've actually received an email this week from someone who said, "I am a white man and I, too, have a hard time talking to white men." So…
NNAMDIHere is Jose, in Washington, D.C. Jose, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSEHey, good afternoon. I -- actually, I love this topic. You know, my name is Jose and I have a mustache and I'm native in Spanish -- a native Spanish speaker. But, you know, I kind of -- I grew up in California. I now live in Washington, D.C. You know, so you're kind -- the language there, you know, my parents pushed both very hard, from the time I was an infant until -- through school. And, you know, it's hard to really get that comfort level.
JOSESo even though I took Spanish in school and -- in high school and took AP Spanish, I still didn't have that comfort until I did the Peace Corps and went to the Dominican Republic. And after that…
NNAMDIHey, we're running out of time. Very quickly, do you have a comment -- a question for Daisy Hernandez?
JOSEYeah, I just, you know, I know the flaca comment about the Spanish, you know, it's hard. And I think growing up in a place where you're not common, it's a little bit harder, but it was a little easier for me in California.
NNAMDIDaisy, care to comment?
HERNANDEZAbsolutely. Yeah, I think we end up making -- hoisting a lot of our feelings onto the language itself and as I read earlier, sort of seeing it as a full person.
NNAMDIDaisy Hernandez is a journalist and author most recently of "A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir." Daisy Hernandez, thank you so very much for joining us. Good luck to you.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring about the Supreme Court's decision yesterday not to hear gay marriage cases. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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