Sesame Street Introduces First Asian American Muppet

By Jason Hall

November 15, 2021

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Sesame Street is introducing a new friend to its long-running program.

Ji-Young will make history as the first Asian American muppet in the soon-to-be 52-year-old show's history, the Associated Press reports.

The character is a 7-year-old Korean American who is passionate about the electric guitar and skateboarding. Sesame Street gave the AP an exclusive first look at the puppet before her announced debut on Monday (November 15).

“So, in Korean traditionally the two syllables they each mean something different and Ji means, like, smart or wise. And Young means, like, brave or courageous and strong,” Ji-Young explained during a recent interview via the AP alongside longtime Sesame Street mainstay Ernie. “But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame.”

Some aspects of Ji-Young's character derive from her puppeteer, Kathleen Kim, a Korean American who has contributed to Sesame Workshop since 2014.

“I feel like I have a lot of weight that maybe I’m putting on myself to teach these lessons and to be this representative that I did not have as a kid,” Kim said via the AP.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind the long-running children's show, acknowledged that Ji-Young's addition was the culmination of numerous events in 2020, including George Floyd's death and a call for equal rights and the spike anti-Asian hate incidents that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The show created a task force to look at its content and another to look at its own diversity, which resulted in Coming Together, a multi-year initiative aimed to help parents with how to talk to children about race, ethnicity and culture.

One result of the new initiative was the introduction of an 8-year-old muppet, Tamir, who wasn't the show's first Black muppet, but specifically aimed to address subjects like racism.

“When we knew we were going to be doing this work that was going to focus on the Asian and Pacific Islanders experience, we of course knew we needed to create an Asian muppet as well,” said Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop.

Ji-Young will be formally introduced in See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special on HBO Max, Sesame Street social media platforms and local PBS stations on Thanksgiving Day.

The special episode will also feature numerous celebrity appearances including Naomi Osaka, Simu Liu and Padma Lakshmi.

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