Besides its usual cast of brightly-colored critters like Elmo and Big Bird, Sesame Street has regularly employed a cast of humanoid Muppets designed to appeal more directly to the show’s young audience. Today, it was announced that a new Muppet would be joining the cast, and for the first time in the show’s history, this one will be Asian-American, Korean-American to be specific.
The new Muppet is named Ji-Young, a 7-year-old American-born Korean-descendant. According to an in-character interview, Ji-Young’s favorite pastimes include playing on the electric guitar and skateboarding, and she is well-versed in the Korean language and culture. Apparently, her name also just happened to include a stealth reference to the show’s title.
“So, in Korean traditionally the two syllables they each mean something different and Ji means, like, smart or wise. And Young means, like, brave or courageous and strong,” Ji-Young explained in the interview. “But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame.”
Out of character, Ji-Young is played by puppeteer Kathleen Kim, who grew up watching Sesame Street herself. As Kim explained in a separate interview, being part of the workshop that led to Ji-Young’s conceptualization felt like a big responsibility, but she knew it was for a good cause.
“Sesame Street” is welcoming its first ever Asian American muppet. Ji-Young is 7, Korean American and loves to rock out on her guitar. The hope is that she will be a positive force against a rise in anti-Asian hate. https://t.co/k6Qwu2F9Nt
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 15, 2021
“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, adding that fellow cast member Leslie Carrara-Rudolph reminded her, “It’s not about us … It’s about this message.”
Ji-Young will be introduced in “See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special,” a special episode set to premier on HBO Max, local broadcasting stations, and the Sesame Street social media channels on Thanksgiving. The special will celebrate “the rich diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities as part of the organization’s ongoing racial justice initiative.”