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AEF and AUSD Celebrate Family Stories with ‘Descendants’

The Alameda Education Foundation (AEF) hosted the premiere of a new short documentary, Descendants – The Story of Us, at Rhythmix Cultural Works on Thursday evening, April 4.

Alameda Post - three people stand smiling for a photo
AUSD’s Shanti Lair-Croom, Shaun Daniels from Castaway Creative/Students on Set, and AEF’s Vicki Sedlack. Photo Carol Dutra/AEF.

Produced by Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Office of Equity Coordinator Shanti Lair-Croom, Descendants details the family histories of several Alameda community members and effectively serves as a spiritual sequel to Lair-Croom’s first film, I Am My Ancestor’s Wildest Dream, which debuted February 2023 in celebration of Black History Month.

Descendants begins with a Native American proverb: “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”

Alameda Post - at Rhythmix, an audience waits to watch Descendants
Audience members eagerly await the film’s premiere at Rhythmix. Photo Ken Der.

The film is divided into stages that mirror a flower’s growth, a metaphor for the long—and often arduous—journeys, decisions, and sacrifices our ancestors have made to allow us to thrive today.

In “Seeds,” speakers reveal their family histories as photographs or documentation of their ancestors shine prominently in the background. “I am a descendant of a father, who had to immigrate as a ‘paper son’ to America in 1937, because of the prejudicial and unfair restrictions of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act,” explained Jane Lee, a retired AUSD teacher and principal.

In “Roots,” Wood Middle School Principal Kai Dwyer recounts an experience driving with her uncle, Franklin R. Saucer, who stopped to pick a piece of cotton for her that was growing on the side of the road. Dwyer, who is descended from enslaved ancestors, kept the piece as a cherished possession as it ties her to her familial roots.

Alameda Post - A smiling women shows a piece of cotton which is displayed on a carved wooden hand. Text underneath says "Kai Dwyer Principal, Will C. Wood Middle School, AUSD"
Wood Middle School Principal Kai Dwyer shows off her piece of cotton in Descendants. Still from Descendants.

Speakers discuss the trials and tribulations of their family members during “Rocky Soil & Rain,” but highlight inspirational stories of overcoming adversity, patriotic service, and community activism in “Blossoming.” And in “Flourishing,” speakers describe their own successes and honor those that came before them.

“I come from a long line of strong, hardworking women, crossing oceans, leaving their homeland,” says Tsagaan Turmunkh, an executive assistant at Wachira Wines. “Seeing their strength shine in my everyday life, I’m the daughter that was allowed to pursue my dreams through their hard work.”

Following the screening, Lair-Croom and Lee joined UCSF Professor Dr. Steven Mack, Wood Middle School teacher Nga Nguyen, and Castro Valley Unified School District counselor LeAnn Shinsato Ruffin—all of whom were featured as speakers in the film—for a short panel discussion.

They were asked if they learned anything new about their family during the filming process. Ruffin said she discovered the power of fear, hate, and propaganda. Her cousin’s family was removed and placed into Japanese internment camps during World War II. Her father, however, avoided a similar fate by enrolling in the Army and helping his sisters do the same by paying their college tuition.

Nguyen came to the United States in 1975 during the end of the Vietnam War after transitioning through refugee camps in the Philippines and Guam as a young child. “As a kid, war is the background. As a kid you play in camps, you play in all the tragedies,” Nguyen explained. “I never knew how much [war] built me until the Ukraine War, and I watch, and I see kids running when the siren goes off.”

Alameda Post - onstage at Rhythmix, a panel of five speak after the showing of Descendants
Panelists Shanti Lair-Croom, Jane Lee, Steven Mack, LeAnn Shinsato Ruffin, and Nga Nguyen. Photo Ken Der.

After the event, parent Danielle DeSimone expressed gratitude at hearing the stories, backgrounds, and personal experiences from a diverse range of community members. “It shows commitment from our educators and it shows that education in Alameda is focused on this,” DeSimone said.

“I support the project as well as AUSD and everything they’re doing for awareness, raising funds, and engagement,” Chadwick Spel said.

For Lair-Croom, the film offers an opportunity to encourage the community to engage in regular conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “I am hoping this video brings awareness of the importance of history,” she told the Alameda Post. “We can all learn from the past and work together to create a better present and future.”

As guests departed for the evening, they were handed a slip of paper directing them to a slide deck with additional resources on DEI. The video and event were made possible by funding from AEF and support from Rhythmix Cultural Works, Castaway Creative, Students on the Set, and Wachira Wines.

Ken Der is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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