Lena Dunham Urges Us to Stand With Immigrant Women in an Honest, Open Letter
Wednesday marked International Women's Day, a day that's unmissable this year since it also coincided with A Day Without a Woman, an initiative that seeks to raise awareness around issues of equality and women's rights through a one-day demonstration of solidarity. The lead-up was strong, and actress and MAKER Lena Dunham put forth another reminder of its importance with an open letter posted to LinkedIn. As she did when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump, Dunham embraced the letter format to speak up for what she believes in. In this case, that’s supporting immigrant women and fighting for them.
The letter begins with the "Girls" creator and star paying homage to her "personal hero," an undocumented immigrant who helped inspire her to attend the Women's March — organized by the same team behind A Day Without a Woman — which took place in response to, and the day after, Donald Trump's inauguration.
"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?" Dunham writes. "But she didn't seem worried... 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. 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."
Another immigrant woman whom Dunham mentions in the letter is the person she was named after, her great-grandmother Lena Simonoff. "She immigrated from Russia just before 1900, newly married, and still practically a teen," she writes. "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."
Her immigrant roots are one of the reasons she was moved to write the letter, and one of the guiding principles behind her activism today. “The teenage me — demanding Juicy Couture sweatsuits, refusing to attend Hebrew school, obsessed with private phone lines, and highfalutin ideas of personal liberty mostly revolving around my belly button ring — did not exactly honor my namesake," Dunham writes. "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."
Outside of International Women's Day and A Day Without a Woman, there are plenty of actions you can take to make a change, which Dunham outlines in the letter.
"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," she says. "Start with one concrete action — that could be giving to CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] 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 (http://larazacrc.org/) 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."
More From Glamour:
• Now, More Than Ever, A Day for Women Matters
• Lena Dunham Apologizes for Saying She Wished She'd Had an Abortion
• How Celebrities Are Honoring A Day Without a Woman and International Women's Day
• A 10-Year-Old Girl Writes Powerful Letter to Principal About Why She'll Be Observing 'A Day Without a Woman'
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