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'Sesame Street' introduces its first-ever Filipino-American muppet, TJ, in episode about confidence

TJ's family's support helps increase his confidence, and he speaks about his interest in learning his native language.

'Sesame Street' introduces its first-ever Filipino-American muppet, TJ, in episode about confidence
Cover Image Source: YouTube / Sesame Street

The importance of inclusion in children's shows cannot be overstated. Children are at a stage where they are learning about the world around them and forming their beliefs and values based on what they see, hear and experience. By including diverse characters and storylines in children's shows, we can promote a sense of understanding and empathy for people who may be different from them.

The PBS children's show "Sesame Street," recently debuted a new character named TJ, the show's first-ever Filipino American muppet. TJ made an appearance on May 7 alongside actor Kal Penn and the show’s first Asian American muppet, Ji-Young. During his debut, the new character shared an example of how his family's support increased his confidence, reports TODAY.


The character was created by Filipino American animator Bobby Pontillas and voiced and puppeteered by Yinan Shentu. Pontillas shared on Instagram that the character was inspired by the children of his lifelong friends, Max and Mateo.

In his first appearance, TJ spoke about his interest in learning his native language. “I’m learning Tagalog. It’s a language my Filipino family speaks. And I have confidence because I can always ask my Lola for help when I don’t know a word,” he said, using the Filipino word for grandmother.


Sesame Workshop's head of talent outreach, inclusiveness and content creation, Rosemary Espina Palacios—who is of Filipino origin—expressed optimism that the figure might challenge some long-held preconceptions. She wrote in an Instagram post: “I’m so proud to help bring some Filipino representation to the neighborhood, and just in time for API Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora. The first segment with @kalpenn and Ji-Young is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the model minority stereotype."


She recently also posted a childhood picture of her brother TJ from his 2nd birthday. "My brother TJ and mom circa 1999. All the love for this little muppet has been overwhelming in the best way, and there’s no one I want to share this with more. Days like these make me miss you the most. Mahal kita, mommy," Palacios captioned the post.


Members of the Filipino American community reacted positively to TJ's introduction, expressing joy that future generations will grow up seeing themselves represented on the popular television program. Alan Muraoka, who has worked to increase Asian American representation in the program, explained that the nationwide racial reckoning prompted the show to address racism and discrimination. This reckoning was prompted by events such as the killing of eight people in Atlanta-area spas and the increased anti-Asian bias and attacks as a result of racist Covid-related stereotypes.


The show introduced its first Asian American muppet, Ji-Young, in 2021. Young—who is played by puppeteer Kathleen Kim—is an ardent skateboarder who enjoys eating spicy Korean rice cakes known as "tteokboki," among other things. Actor Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store on the show and is also Asian American, stated that "Sesame Street" does not shy away from the severe, yet very genuine concerns surrounding Ji-Young's identity. “She’s a musician, she plays electric guitar, she’s a girl of the very modern American fabric,” he told NBC Asian America.


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