Sesame Street Has Its First Asian-American Muppet

Meet Ji-Young, who is Korean-American
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 15, 2021 3:27 AM CST
Sesame Street Has Its First Asian-American Muppet
Ernie, a muppet from the popular children's series "Sesame Street," appears with new character Ji-Young, the first Asian American muppet, on the set of the long-running children's program in New York on Nov. 1, 2021. Ji-Young is Korean American and has two passions: rocking out on her electric guitar...   (AP Photo/Noreen Nasir)

What's in a name? Well, for Ji-Young, the newest muppet resident of Sesame Street, her name is a sign she was meant to live there. “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. “But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame.” At only 7 years old, Ji-Young is making history as the first Asian American muppet in the Sesame Street canon, the AP reports. She is Korean American and has two passions: rocking out on her electric guitar and skateboarding. The children’s TV program, which first aired 52 years ago this month, gave the Associated Press a first look at its adorable new occupant.

Ji-Young will formally be introduced in See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special. Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka are among the celebrities appearing in the special, which will drop Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max, Sesame Street social media platforms and on local PBS stations. Some of Ji-Young’s personality comes from her puppeteer. Kathleen Kim, 41 and a Korean American, got into puppetry in her 30s. In 2014, she was accepted into a Sesame Street workshop. That evolved into a mentorship and becoming part of the team the following year. Being a puppeteer on a show Kim watched growing up was a dream come true. But helping shape an original muppet is a whole other feat.

Ji-Young’s existence is the culmination of a lot of discussions after the events of 2020—George Floyd’s death and anti-Asian hate incidents. Like a lot of companies, Sesame Street reflected on how it could “meet the moment,” said Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice-president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop established two task forces—one to look at its content and another to look at its own diversity. What developed was Coming Together, a multi-year initiative addressing how to talk to children about race, ethnicity, and culture. Another result was 8-year-old Tamir. While not the show's first Black muppet, he was one of the first used to talk about subjects like racism. (Much more on Ji-Young's debut here.)

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