Sesame Street has made history with its newest character, Ji-Young, the first Asian American muppet to appear on the popular kids’ show. Sesame Street first aired in 1952.
Ji-Young is a seven-year-old Korean American who loves skateboarding and playing electric guitar. Aside from being an adorable addition to the cast, Sesame Street creators hope that Ji-Young's character will help counter anti-Asian sentiment, stating that her existence is the culmination of many discussions following the events of 2020—including George Floyd’s death and anti-Asian hate incidents that came as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has been a tumultuous few years, with divisions running deep and seemingly endless social injustices brought to light. Among the many things we have learned about the world, about each other, and about ourselves during this time, it's that representation matters when it comes to tackling fears and prejudices.
Like a lot of companies, Sesame Street reflected on how it could “meet the moment,” said Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice president for creative and production for Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind Sesame Street. “When we knew we were going to be doing this work that was going to focus on the Asian and Pacific Islanders experience, we of course knew we needed to create an Asian muppet as well,” Stallings said.
Ji-Young’s puppeteer, Kathleen Kim, is also a Korean American. “I feel like I have a lot of weight that maybe I’m putting on myself to teach these lessons and to be this representative that I did not have as a kid,” Kim said in an interview, adding it was important to her that Ji-Young was not “generally pan-Asian”.
“That’s what every Asian American has experienced,” Kim said, “They want to bring us together in this monolithic ‘Asian’.”
Ji-Young will be officially introduced in See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special. The programme, which will feature Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka, will address the topics of race, and ways to build empathy and embrace diversity. The special will air on Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max and Sesame Street social media platforms.