After over 50 years of being on the air, the legendary children’s show Sesame Street is introducing its first ever Asian American muppet to its cast.
Named Ji-Young, the 7-year old character will be helmed by puppeteer Kathleen Kim, herself a Korean American and a 7-year veteran at Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind the show.
“I feel like I have a lot of weight that I’m maybe putting on myself to teach these lessons and to be this representative that I did not have as a kid,” Kim was quoted as saying.
The character’s introduction comes amidst nationwide conversations about race in the USA. With anti-Asian sentiment on the rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sesame Workshop introduced the ‘Coming Together’ initiative, which seeks to address how we ought to talk to children about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences.
As part of this move, Ji-Young is set to debut during a Thanksgiving day special entitled ‘See Us Coming Together’, which will also feature Asian American stalwarts as special guests, namely actor Simu Liu, celebrity tv host Padma Lakshmi, and tennis great Naomi Osaka.
“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,” said Alan Muraoka, the co-director of the special.
It was said that Ji-Young’s introduction will not be just a pandering set-piece, with executives promising that she will be a regular fixture on the show, appearing not just when talking about racial justice.
Sesame Street’s expanding diversity bodes well for the future of Asian representation in popular culture and the media, following hot on the heels of movies such as Crazy Rich Asians and the Marvel blockbuster Shang Chi.
However, whether it does much to negate racist sentiments and violent attacks on affected communities as a whole remains to be seen.