“Sesame Street” is welcoming its first Asian American muppet to the neighborhood. Ji-Young, a 7-year-old Korean American girl who loves to play her electric guitar and skateboard, will make her debut next Wednesday.
Ji-Young won’t just be sharing her love for rock music and tteokbokki, or Korean rice cakes, on the show. She will also help to counter anti-Asian biases, harassment, and other issues that are becoming more prominent in this time of increased awareness.
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces “Sesame Street,” said it created Ji-Young to support families of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage as part of its racial justice initiative, Coming Together. The initiative was launched by Sesame Workshop in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd. It also came as violence against Asians and Asian Americans soared during the pandemic.
“Sesame Street” has been on air for more than 50 years, but Ji-Young is its first Asian American muppet.
The show has had human characters and guests of Asian descent, including Alan Muraoka, who is Japanese American and owns the fictional Hooper’s Store. In June, “Sesame Street” released a video called “Proud of Your Eyes,” in which Mr. Muraoka helped Analyn, a Filipino American girl, after she was teased about the shape of her eyes. Muraoka, Wes, and a muppet told Analyn that Analyn’s eyes were beautiful and part her identity.
Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociology professor at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., and an expert on race and racism in Hollywood, said that when she first immigrated to the United States from Taiwan at age 5, she learned more English from “Sesame Street” than from the E.S.L. Her school offers classes.
The show was more diverse than most children’s programming of the time, but Ms. Yuen said it was missing characters who looked like her when she was growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“I think having this muppet who is more culturally specific and is able to speak another language, especially in the current time of rising anti-Asian hate, is so essential to representation,” she said.
Ji-Young made her television debut on the “Today” show on NBC on Monday. “You know what’s really cool about ‘Sesame Street’ is that no matter what you look like, or how you play or where you come from, you belong, and that’s really cool,” Ji-Young said.
She will be introduced on “Sesame Street” during a special episode on Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max and on local PBS stations. The show, “See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special,” will also feature Simu Liu and Naomi Osaka.
Mr. Liu, who plays the title character in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings,” welcomed Ji-Young to “Sesame Street” on Twitter on Monday, after The Associated Press reported on the new muppet’s debut.
“I’ve had the privilege of experiencing so many incredible things over the past couple of years, but this definitely sticks out,” Mr. Liu said. “Welcome to Sesame Street, Ji-Young! I’m so glad I got to hang out with you.”
In this special episode, Sesame Street residents celebrate Neighbor Day. This is a community event featuring food, music, games and more. Someone offscreen tells Ji-Young to “go back home,” and then the other residents, guest stars and friends, like Elmo, offer her support.
Ji-Young’s puppeteer is Kathleen Kim, who is Korean American. “My one hope, obviously, is to actually help teach what racism is, help teach kids to be able to recognize it and then speak out against it,” Ms. Kim, 41, told The A.P. “But then my other hope for Ji-Young is that she just normalizes seeing different kinds of looking kids on TV.”
Source: NY Times