'Sesame Street' debuts its first Asian American muppet as part of social justice initiative

Ji-Young is a spunky 7-year-old with Korean heritage.

ByDeena Zaru via via logo
November 15, 2021, 11:15 AM

"Sesame Street" is debuting the first Asian-American muppet in the show's history -- a 7-year-old girl with Korean heritage named Ji-Young.

The new character in the muppet canon is set to debut as part of "See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street," which will air on Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max, PBS Kids and on Sesame Street's YouTube channel.

According to a bio of Ji-Young posted on the "Sesame Street" website, her personality is spunky and her interests include playing the electric guitar, playing soccer and skateboarding.

"Ji-Young is extremely close with her family and is proud of her Korean heritage," the bio reads. "She loves playing music with her grandma and cooking her favorite food—tteokbokki. Her family eats dinner together at the kitchen table every night, chatting in both Korean and English."

PHOTO: Seven year-old Ji-Young is Sesame Street's first-ever Asian-American muppet.
Seven year-old Ji-Young is Sesame Street's first-ever Asian-American muppet.
Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop

According to Sesame Street Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind "Sesame Street," puppeteer Kathleen Kim will perform the role of Ji-Young and the show will also include celebrity guests like actors Simu Liu and Anna Cathcart, comic book artist Jim Lee, chef Melissa King, television personality Padma Lakshmi and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

"Sesame Workshop's mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. Today, we uphold that mission by empowering children and families of all races, ethnicities, and cultures to value their unique identities," Kay Wilson Stallings, Sesame Workshop's Executive Vice President of Creative and Production, said in a statement. "See Us Coming Together continues Sesame Street's proud legacy of representation with an engaging story that encourages empathy and acceptance and uplifts Asian and Pacific Islander communities."

The introduction of Ji-Young and the upcoming special are part of "Sesame Street's" "Coming Together" initiative and ongoing efforts to educate children on social justice issues and how to speak out against racism.

Sesame Street Workshop introduced "The ABC's of Racial Literacy" in March 2021, a program that provides an educational curriculum designed for children at various developmental stages to help each child "be smarter, stronger, and kinder—and an upstander to racism."

PHOTO: Muppet Ji-Young performed by Sesame Workshop puppeteer Kathleen Kim, right, at work on the set of the upcoming "Coming Together" special.
Muppet Ji-Young performed by Sesame Workshop puppeteer Kathleen Kim, right, at work on the set of the upcoming "Coming Together" special.
Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop

The program also includes resources and activities for parents to help them speak with their children about racism and social justice, as well as programs and activities to help families cope with racism.

As incidents of anti-Asian hate skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, "Sesame Street" highlighted anti-Asian bullying by releasing a video titled "Proud of Your Eyes" in June that focuses on the experience of Asian American children.

In the video, Analyn, who is Filipino American, shares with her friends Wes and Alan that she was teased about the shape of her eyes.

PHOTO: Sesame Street introduces its first Asian-American muppet. Seven year-old Ji-Young, second from left, is pictured alongside other Sesame Street characters.
Sesame Street introduces its first Asian-American muppet. Seven year-old Ji-Young, second from left, is pictured alongside other Sesame Street characters.
Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop

They offer support and encouragement and remind the young girl that "everything about you is beautiful, both inside and out." In a song, they tell Analyn that she should stand strong and be proud of her heritage and her family.

"Sesame Street" has long been outspoken about issues of social justice and the programming has worked to teach children about current events and social issues.

Over the past few years, "Sesame Street" has diversified its character canon to educate children about social issues with new additions like Karli, a muppet in foster care and Lily, a muppet dealing with homelessness, as well as a new Arabic language program called "Ahlan Simsim," to comfort kids displaced by the Syrian war.

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