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'Sesame Street' makes history by debuting its first Asian American muppet, Ji-Young

'Sesame Street' makes history by debuting its first Asian American muppet, Ji-Young

She is a 7-year-old Korean American 'who loves to play her electric guitar and is always willing to play a song with her friends on Sesame Street.'

"Sesame Street" is welcoming its first Asian American muppet to the neighborhood this Thanksgiving Day. Ji-Young, the newest muppet cast member of the iconic children's television show, is described by Sesame Workshop as a 7-year-old Korean American "who loves to play her electric guitar and is always willing to play a song with her friends on Sesame Street." The spunky character will formally be introduced in "See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special," which will also feature celebrities like Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi, and Naomi Osaka. Ji-Young’s identity straddles two cultures—Asian and American—according to Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store on the show. 



 

"She's a musician, she plays electric guitar, she's a girl of the very modern American fabric," he said. "She recognizes the culture through her relatives — her grandmother, through her mother — and through the food she eats and loves." Muraoka, who has played a significant role in incorporating more Asian American representation into the show, added that "Sesame Street" does not shy away from addressing the serious issues that come with Ji-Young's identity: anti-Asian racism. According to a press release on the upcoming special, after another child tells Ji-Young to "go home" in an offscreen incident, the young character "seeks out trusted grown-ups and friends who unite to help her know that she’s exactly where she belongs."



 

"It's a powerful thing when kids see people like themselves represented on screen and in stories—it supports them as they figure out who they are and who they want to be," Muraoka says in the press release. "We can't wait for families to get to know Ji-Young—in this special and in future seasons of Sesame Street—and celebrate some of the Asian and Pacific Islander people in our neighborhood!" The longtime "Sesame Street" cast member explained that the nationwide racial reckoning, spurred by events like the killing of eight people in Atlanta-area spas, and the spike in anti-Asian bias and attacks that stemmed from racist COVID-related stereotypes, pushed the show to address the issue before its loyal audience.



 



 

"People are seeing the need for it now, especially with the rise in American violence," Muraoka said. "I think it's absolutely because the nation as a whole woke up." Pointing out that "Sesame Street" has a long history of dealing with difficult topics, the 59-year-old explained why it's important to discuss topics like racism with children despite some parents' apprehension. "Especially in the last two years with the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, we're at a very critical time that we need to talk about these issues that are both sensitive and hard at times," he said. "It's necessary for the next generation of kids to understand these issues because they're real issues and they're issues that I don’t see going away in the foreseeable future."



 

"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," said Kay Wilson Stallings, Sesame Workshop's Executive Vice President of Creative and Production. "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. With the generous support of The Asian American Foundation, Ford Foundation, and P&G/Pampers, we're proud to bring this special to life."



 

Performed by Sesame Workshop puppeteer Kathleen Kim, Ji-Young also "loves playing soccer and rolling along the street on her skateboard. Ji-Young is extremely close with her family and is proud of her Korean heritage. She loves playing music with her grandma and cooking her favorite food—tteokboki. Her family eats dinner together at the kitchen table every night, chatting in both Korean and English."



 

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