‘Sesame Street’ debuts Ji-Young, first Asian American muppet

What's the point of a name? Ji-Young is the newest resident muppet of "Sesame Street". Her name is a sign that she was meant for it.

‘Sesame Street’ debuts Ji-Young, first Asian American muppet

What's the point of a name? Ji-Young is the newest resident muppet of "Sesame Street". Her name is a sign that she was meant for it.

So, Korean traditionally, the two syllables mean something different. Ji is smarter or more wise than Ji. Ji-Young explained that Young is brave, courageous, and strong in a recent interview. "But, we looked it up and guess? Ji also refers to sesame.

Ji-Young, just 7 years old is the first Asian American puppet in "Sesame street". She is Korean American, and she has two passions: skateboarding and rocking on her electric guitar. The Associated Press got a glimpse at the adorable new occupant of this children's television program that aired 52 year ago.

Ji-Young will be officially introduced in "See Us Coming Together": A Sesame Street Special. Simu Liu and Padma Lakshmi are among the stars appearing in the special. It will air on Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max and "Sesame Street," as well as local PBS stations.

Part of Ji-Young’s personality is due to her puppeteer. Kathleen Kim, 41, a Korean American who got into puppetry when she was in her 30s. She was accepted to a Sesame Street workshop in 2014. This led to a mentorship, and she was accepted into the team the next year. It was a dream come real to be a puppeteer in a show Kim grew up watching. It's a different feat to help create a original muppet.

Kim stated, "I feel like a lot of weight that perhaps I'm putting onto myself to teach these lesson and to be this representative that was not my childhood," However, fellow puppeteer Leslie CarraraRudolph -- who plays Abby Cadabby - reminded Kim that it wasn't about her. "It's about the message.

Ji-Young's existence was the result of many discussions following the events of 2020, including George Floyd's death as well as anti-Asian hate incidents. Kay Wilson Stallings (executive vice president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop), the non-profit organization behind "Sesame street," stated that "Sesame street" was like many companies.

Sesame Workshop created two task forces to examine the workshop's content and one to analyze its diversity. Coming Together was a multi-year project that addressed how to talk with children about race, culture, and ethnicity.

Tamir, an 8-year old boy, was one of the results. Although he wasn't the first Black muppet on the show, he was the first to discuss topics like racism.

Stallings stated, "When we realized we were going do this work that was going focus on the Asian Pacific Islanders experience of life, we of course knew that we had to create an Asian muppet."

The newer muppets, their personalities and looks, were created in just a few months. This process usually takes at most a few years. Stallings stated that outside experts and employees are part of the "culture trust", which weighs in on all aspects of a new muppet.

Kim felt it was important that Ji-Young wasn't "generously pan-Asian."

"Because it's something all Asian Americans have experienced. Kim stated that they want to lump us all into one unified 'Asian'. Kim stated that it was important that she be specifically Korean American and not like any other Korean. However, she was born in Korea.

Ji-Young will teach children how to be "upstanders." The term was first used by "Sesame street" on "The Power of We," a TV special that featured Tamir.

Stallings stated, "Being upstander means that you point out wrongdoings or things that someone says or does that is based upon their negative attitude towards them because of their skin color or language or whereabouts." "We want our audience understand that they can be upstanders," Stallings said.

Sesame Street's "See Us Coming Together" episode features Sesame Street preparing for Neighbor Day, where everyone will share food, music and dance from their respective cultures. Ji-Young is upset when a child tells her to "go back home", an insult often used against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She feels empowered by Sesame Street's Asian American residents, guest stars, and friends like Elmo who assure her she is just as welcome as everyone else.

Kim is more impressed by Ji-Young's creation to counter anti-Asian sentiment.

Kim stated that she recalled the Atlanta shootings as a frightening experience. Kim stated, "My only hope is to help educate about racism, teach children to recognize it, and then speak out against it." Ji-Young's other hope is that she will just accept different types of children on television.

Vanessa Leung is co-executive Director of Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and is very excited about Ji-Young. Although the organization wasn't involved in Ji-Young’s creation, it was previously involved in advising Sesame Workshop on anti-racism content. Leung stated that it is important for Asian American families to see themselves in institutions like "Sesame street", especially since many of them are immigrant families.

Leung stated that "it sparks curiosity and early understanding about the diversity in our community, the beauty within it all."

Stallings assured that Ji-Young would be present for the entire 53rd season of the show next year. She will not be used for content that is related to racial injustice. She will appear in several digital programs, animated and live-action.

Ji-Young, the new street kid, is excited to show her neighbors and friends aspects of Korean culture like the food. With her grandmother, halmoni, she loves to cook dishes such as tteokbokki (chewy rice cakes). She already has a "Sesame street" friend who would love a sample.

Ernie joined Ji-Young for the interview. "I would love it to try it," she said. "You know what, I have tried bulgogi. I love bulgogi. Maybe Bert, my old friend, hasn't tried Korean food."

Ji-Young has made many friends on "Sesame street," but is Ji-Young still looking for someone to get along?

Ji-Young stated, "The Linda Lindas are so cool because they're such a cool band," referring to the teenager punk rock group. They rock out, they're cool girls, and the majority of them are Asian. They are my heroes. If the Linda Lindas from 'Sesame St' can be contacted, I'd show them around.

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