Who Is Sesame Street’s Newest Muppet, Ji-Young?
Sesame Street is about to get a new resident, who is already making history for being the first Asian American Muppet on the long-running show.
Her name is Ji-Young, and she’s been making headlines before she’s even had her first Sesame Street appearance.
The character is a result of a lot of cultural discussions over the last couple of years; particularly those around media diversity and representation, as well as the increased discrimination Asian communities have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ji-Young joining Sesame Street has been described as a way for the show to “meet the moment”, and her arrival has been widely celebrated.
Sesame Street has been around since 1969, but in all that time it’s never had an Asian American Muppet, until now.
Ji-Young is a 7-year-old Korean American who apparently loves playing electric guitar and skateboarding.
She made her first TV appearance on the NBC Today show earlier this month, but she’ll be officially introduced on Sesame Street in a special episode airing on Thanksgiving.
Representation On Sesame Street
Ji-Young’s puppeteer, Kathleen Kim, is also Korean American.
Kim got into puppetry in her 30s, and she’s said that she hopes Ji-Young can help teach kids how to recognise and speak out against racism.
She also hopes that Ji-Young being on Sesame Street will normalise seeing different kinds of kids on TV.
Simu Liu, who recently starred in Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings, welcomed Ji-Young to Sesame Street on Twitter.
He wrote that even though he’d experienced many incredible things over the past couple of years, this is a moment that “definitely sticks out”.
I've had the privilege of experiencing so many incredible things over the past couple of years, but this definitely sticks out.
Welcome to Sesame Street, Ji-Young! I'm so glad I got to hang out with you. https://t.co/AkzyuTRiXT
— Simu Liu (刘思慕) (@SimuLiu) November 15, 2021
Liu will actually appear in Ji-Young’s first episode along with some other celebrity guests, like tennis star Naomi Osaka.
In the special episode, the residents of Sesame Street apparently throw a community event called “Neighbour Day”, which is all about celebrating the different cultures of the street’s neighbours.
Someone off-screen reportedly tells Ji-Young to “go back home” during the community celebration, and the other Sesame Street residents, guest stars, and friends – like Elmo – band around Ji-Young to support her.
Why This Is Important
This is a particular kind of discrimination that can affect the Asian American and Pacific Islander – or AAPI – community, where people are seen as ‘perpetual foreigners’ – regardless of where they were born or how long they’ve lived wherever they do.
Sesame Workshop is the non-profit organisation that produces Sesame Street, and it’s exactly that type of discrimination that it wants to tackle with one of its initiatives.
In 2020 it introduced something called the ‘Coming Together’ initiative, which is a multi-year campaign that aims to talk to kids about race, ethnicity, and culture.
The initiative was formed after the events of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increased violence towards Asians that was seen around the world during the pandemic.
Ji-Young’s character was created as part of that initiative in support of the AAPI community, and the hope is that Sesame Street’s first Asian American Muppet in over 50 years will help counter some of the anti-Asian sentiment we’ve seen.
Asian representation in media is on the rise, particularly after the success of movies like Shang-Chi and Parasite, and Netflix’s hit show Squid Game.
And hopefully Ji-Young joining Sesame Street will be the latest of many more examples that show how empowering diverse on-screen representation can be.