Musicians band together to support immigrant rights

Mar 17, 2017

When Vinnie Saletto and his wife considered adopting a child from overseas, they turned to the International Institute of St. Louis to learn more about how immigrants fare in St. Louis.

As Saletto learned more about the Institute’s mission — and noticed an increasing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States — he felt compelled to support to the organization. So he turned to his passion, music, and began organizing a benefit concert for the institute.

The concert “Rise and Scream” will take place Saturday at 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center. About 90 people are contributing to the event —  from bands to artists, cooks to vendors. Many will voice opposition to the Trump administration's immigration policies.

“Art is one of the only places where you can be absolutely genuine about something that could trouble the people at large,” Saletto said.

Saletto said he hopes the concert increases awareness of the International Institute’s work while raising donations. But he’d also like to bring together artists of various disciplines to lay the groundwork for future collaborations.

He said that artists, musicians and other creative people  must remain committed to engaging with the issues in which they believe. 

“If we don’t have art, we don’t have a means of communicating the issues to the public,” Saletto said. “Even the kings back in their day in the Middle Ages had the court jesters to call the king out on various and different issues.”

The event's 18 acts include the local band CaveofswordS.

Sunyatta McDermott, who sings and plays bass in the band, said Trump's restrictive immigration policies deny the history of the United States, a nation of immigrants.

“They’re our neighbors, they’re our friends, in the future, they’ll be our families,” said McDermott, who lives near the Dutchtown neighborhood in St. Louis.

McDermott agrees with Saletto that artists have a roll to fill when addressing current political issues.

“I know that speaking out is important, that speaking out for justice is our civic duty in the face of intolerance,” she said.

McDermott said raising money for the International Institute is great thing. She hopes uniting voices from various communities to show support for an issue will help change how people perceive immigrants and immigration policy.

For McDermott, participating in events like Saturday’s concert is a way of asserting that refugees and immigrants must be treated with basic human dignity and not vilified.  She said the institute’s work, providing resources for immigrants and their families, helps them become successful members of society by giving them the tools they need to learn the language, pay their bills, deal with civic life.

“Giving people resources so they can be a part of our community benefits everyone,” McDermott said.