Selina Liu is a rising third-year majoring in Theatre and Music with a minor in Music Education. She plans to have a first draft of the script for her play by the end of summer.

Tell me about your SURG topic.

Liu: My SURG project is this play with music. I call it a literary, theatrical and musical work. The title is Sunrise on Far Away Waters. It is a Chinese American story that spans across generations, across 35 years of history and across continents. The two main characters are an Asian American college student activist and the younger version of her father, who was a student activist in the 1989 democracy movement.

Is this something you’ve already been working on?

Liu: This project took shape my senior year of high school. It was a project for AP Lit. Our teacher asked us to talk to our family about their history, their lives and are there any major historical events that shaped the course of your family? It was supposed to be a six-page essay. I wrote a 36-page story on my family’s history and the 1989 democracy movement but also how it impacted my family and how it led to my parents’ decision to immigrate here. It’s been a few years in the making. I’m still grappling with my identity as an artist of color. How much should I tell my cultural story? Should I tell my cultural story at all? For years, it was on the back burner. Last winter, I’m honestly not sure what clicked, but I had this thought – ‘What if I write this into a musical?’ I do a lot of new musical development. I was like, ‘Hey, maybe it can live in the form that I am familiar with and that I am trained to do.’ I am planning on having a first draft of the script and all of the songs by the end of the summer.

What do you hope people will get from this play?

Liu: Something that consistently comes up when I’m doing my historical research is that the 1989 democracy movement is a movement. It is not about the government’s reaction. It is not about what ended the movement, but the movement itself. Every year, on the anniversary of June 4, I see a lot of Western media and its sudden surge of care and concern of using the massacre that ended the movement as this cautionary tale to remind us of our civil liberties. It’s like, ‘Look at us. We are the West. We have democracy. The rest of them don’t.’ I want there to be a way for people to unlearn it. First and foremost, you need to know that this is a movement that was started by people like us. A lot of the vocabulary that they use in another country and in the ‘80s, that is the same vocabulary that a lot of community organizers use today. I want people to think of it as an inspiration and not just a cautionary tale.

Meet the other SURG Recipients!