Colma: The Musical

June 29, 2007

Today I went to see “Colma: The Musical” with Sophia and Pat. I absolutely loved it. It’s about these three teens who have just graduated from high school and are at a crossroads at their lives. They grew up in Colma, a suburb in the shadow of San Francisco. The song “Colma Stays” shows their angst to get out of this town: “Colma stays, fast as a tortoise/ Colma stays like rigor mortis….Colma stays, but I have to go”. I’m at a crossroads at my life, and wondering if I’ll be stuck in the suburbs too. Though I’m 4 years later, I can still relate of course. Here’s the trailer:

I first heard about this a few months ago when it played at the San Francisco Asian-American film festival (though I was in Claremont at the time, I used to go to this festival in high school and still keep tabs on some of the film). When I heard there was a musical about Colma I got really excited and really wanted to watch this movie. A) I love musicals in general. B) It’s about Colma. Colma is the town next to mine, it’s where I used to go to BART all the time, it’s where one of the two local malls are at (the other is Tanforan, which used to be a Japanese internment camp. Now there’s a little plaque thing that acknowledges it after the mall was remodeled, but before when I was growing up, the mall just talked about how the location used to be a horse race track, and kind of omitted the internment part of its history). The region of suburbs south of San Francisco are referred to as the Peninsula. This includes Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, etc. We’re all part of San Mateo County. What’s notable about Colma is that dead people outnumber the living. Most of its land is for cemetery usage (the town was founded when San Francisco was getting too populated and didn’t have enough space to bury its dead). Though I’m from South San Francisco, this is the closest thing I have to a film about my hometown. When I was growing up, everyday I passed cemeteries on the way to and from school. My elementary and middle schools was south, and on that way we would drive past a military cemetery. I remember that in particular because there were a lot of gravestones really close together and my dad told me it was because people were buried vertically instead of horizontally. My high school was north, and driving up there I would go through the cemeteries in Colma. From an early age I thought it was pretty morbid that graveyards were one of the first things I saw in the morning everday. Now there’s a musical that kind of addresses that strange feeling of having that as the background of your childhood.

That was the best part for me in watching the movie, seeing the locations important to me be important to someone else. The opening of the film was pretty uncanny. For some reason it first showed images of Oakland’s Chinatown, which was where me, Pat and Sophia had lunch with our friend Timmy this morning. The next images were shots of the Embarcadero, which was where we currently were, so at first there was this feeling that the film was somehow stalking us. We talked about how this was kind of creepy and some mean old white lady who was alone rudely yelled “Knock it off, kids” in order to get us to be quiet. We were all shocked and mad, and at a loss of what to do or say, especially since the movie was now playing. I hold grudges easily, so everytime she laughed (she laughed really loudly, and annoyingly distinctly) I’d imagine how when the movie was over, I would loudly say something like “That old white lady was so RUDE. Bitch” (cuz I’m also passive-aggressive). Towards the end of the movie, she began talking to herself, so I just figured she was just kind of a crazy old lady. But anyways….

The songs in the film referenced things I’m really familiar with, like Serramonte and places like that. One of the lyrics was making fun of how exciting it was that an In-n-Out was built there as was a Krispy Kremes. It really WAS exciting when those things were first built cuz there’s not that much else to do where I am from.

That view in the screencap is something I see a lot! It was strange to see images that are normal to my life be glamourized on the big screen, from footage of the BART route I always take, to the stores I always go to, etc. These are things that are so part of my everyday life that I don’t really get to share with most people. I don’t really have many friends from the Peninsula. I went to high school in San Francisco, so most of my friends from there have never even set foot in Colma. To think of it, very very few of my friends from high school have ever set foot in my house. Neima and sometimes Chris are one of the even fewer number of folks who regularly comes to hang out at my house. My social life away from my family is hella San Francisco-centric. I guess I always have gone to my friends’ houses because in my head I think there’s nothing exciting to do in SSF (South San Francisco), and because most of my friends live there, so why drag them down here. How do I map where I come from in the Bay Area, in the sense of where I feel at home? I sleep in SSF, spend most of my days in San Francisco (am much more familiar with the public transit there), am familiar with Burlingame because that’s where I went to school for three years…All these places feel like home, yet also not. I’m always commuting from everywhere, so though a place feels like home it’s somewhere that’s in the back and forth of my life. Though I’m hesitant to call myself a San Franciscan since I’m not from the city proper, in many ways I know it better than I know where I live. I’m in this weird limbo where I’m a pseudo-San Franciscan. I know the City to an extent, especially since I’m the one who always comes up here to hang out with friends. I have a familiarity with where they are from, their neighborhoods like the Sunset, or the Mission. If I’m not from there, at least I have an idea of what it’s like to live in the city. However, they don’t have any idea or any clue of where I am from, or what it’s like to live in the suburbs, in the Peninsula. There’s something about living in a suburb to a large city, there can be a dead-end-iness to it, a feeling of always looking to somewhere else, etc.

There were some lines in the movie that really made me start thinking about this notion. The female lead was talking to her friend about how when it’s not foggy, you can see the San Francisco skyline. Though Colma’s a small town, you’re reminded that you’re near a major metropolis. She goes on about how she wonders if people in San Francisco could see Colma, would they even look this way? When she said that, I was like “Dude, that’s my life!”. It made me wonder about how there’s parts of me and my life that never gets shared with others, parts that other folks don’t even realize exist. San Francisco is always being celebrated and talked about in films, shows, etc. San Francisco I guess is more like what I’ve always wanted to work towards, I’ve always wanted to live there, people think its an important place, what the city holds is exciting to me, so my mind is focused on that. It’s like I’ve always been thinking more of where I want to be instead of where I am now. I’m from the Peninsula, I live in South San Francisco, first lived in San Bruno, when through puberty in Burlingame. I’m from San Mateo county. Those are places that have largely shaped my life and those are important places to me, even though those names might not be important to others. This film shows how those places that are meaningful to me are meaningful to someone else too.

So, I end this blog with one of my favorite things about South San Francisco. We’re also known as the Industrial City, and have immortalized this in giant, huge concrete white letters on a hill.


One Response to “Colma: The Musical”

  1. sam said

    Do you know if the movie will get wider release?

    (i’m pretty sure denver has enough arthouse-type theaters that we might be able to swing it, even if it’s not national/mainstream)

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