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Here's what we're fighting for on International Women's Day

Lena Dunham
Jim Spellman | WireImage | Getty Images
Lena Dunham

Someone I love is undocumented. She is a personal hero of mine: She has cared for the dying, for the just-born, for people who can't care for themselves. She has a vast and encompassing religious identity rooted only in love. She feeds people literally and figuratively. She is everything you could hope for from an American. But she has not been allowed to become one.

As a result, she keeps a low profile. She doesn't travel besides to and from work. She allows her children (American born, citizens) to do much of her communicating.

So when I found out a few weeks ago she would be taking the day off of her job to march for immigrants' rights, I was stunned. My first reaction was fear. What if she were arrested and detained or, worse yet, deported? Her native home is not a safe place for any woman, and her situation is particularly difficult. What would befall her if she made herself vulnerable in this way?

But she didn't seem worried. Maybe that's because she's endured so much worse at the hands of a paternalistic society both in her native country and her new home. Maybe it's because of the unfathomable danger of her trip to America. Or maybe it's because the stakes are just too high right now for her not to show up.

So I simply thanked her, told her how proud I am to know her and asked how I could best support. But in addition to being proud I was also keenly embarrassed—my own social anxiety had left me wondering for weeks whether I'd attend the women's march before I quelled my piddling fears and just showed up.

"Feminists have always been emboldened by the acts of immigrant women. Following their lead will never steer us wrong."

Meanwhile, my friend showed up to the immigrant march without question, not just for herself but for every woman like her who knows deeply that they deserve to claim America as their home. It was a keen reminder: feminists have always been emboldened by the acts of immigrant women. Following their lead will never steer us wrong.

I have been reminded of this from the start. I am named after my great grandmother, Lena Simonoff. She immigrated from Russia just before 1900, newly married and still practically a teen. She knew no English and hoped only to pursue life as a Jew in a place that promised to accept her growing family.

After making it for months at sea and then through Ellis Island, Lena and Louis settled in a one room apartment in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. There, she gave birth to eight children — one born dead — all of whom would go on to enjoy healthy careers, rich family lives and even someday give birth to children whose children would never, ever consider themselves anything but Americans.

"Am I like Lena?" I would ask my grandpa Sam, her youngest child. My mother's only memory of her was that she had a soft jolly stomach (check!) and arms covered in burns from pulling Challah in and out of the oven (not as much.)

He said I had her "winning smile" and that I also gave great hugs. But that seemed trite, basic. In fact, the only recollection anyone could offer me about Lena was that she was kind, gentle, spoke little English and was always cooking something or cleaning up the detritus of a meal. She survived a stroke.

She helped her children purchase property. She never, ever spoke of Russia. I understand now that behind whatever sweetness described there must have been a steely, impossible-to-comprehend strength- what else drives a young woman away from everything and everyone she knows, carries her to a new land, allows her to bear the weight of life and death and endless Challah burns?

The teenage me—demanding Juicy Couture sweatsuits, refusing to attend Hebrew school, obsessed with private phone lines and high-falutin' ideas of personal liberty mostly revolving around my belly button ring—did not exactly honor my namesake.

But today I try to. Not just in the small ways, like trying to channel Grandma Lena on that boat and not whine about motion sickness in the back of a Lyft. But in big ways, too like bearing life's trials and tribulations- physical and emotional- with as much elegance as I can muster. By taking action against silent injustice. By trying my darnedest to feed those I love- if not with my own hands then. with love, patience, compassion and takeout.

I encourage you to use International Women's Day to consider acts of courage great and small by immigrant women, and to commit to fighting with and for them. Start with one concrete action—that could be giving to CAIR so that those affected by Islamophobia aren't denied their right to enter our country.

It could mean going to a local center for Latino immigrants and sharing food, flowers or toys. It could mean supporting Dreamers attending college. It could mean volunteering to show a newly resettled family around your hometown, cook them a meal, remind them they are welcome.

Volunteering your time at Planned Parenthood ensures these women have the resources they need to start the lives they want. And sometimes the most powerful thing is organizing an act of creative protest. But maybe it just means asking about your great-grandmother.

Commentary by Lena Dunham, an American actress, writer, producer, and director. She is best known as the creator, writer and star of the HBO series Girls. Follow her on Twitter @lenadunham.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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