Meet Ji-Young! 'Sesame Street' Introduces First Asian American Muppet

Ji-Young will make her debut on See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special later this month

Ernie, a muppet from the popular children's series "Sesame Street," appears with new character Ji-Young, the first Asian American muppet, on the set of the long-running children's program in New York on . Ji-Young is Korean American and has two passions: rocking out on her electric guitar and skateboarding TV--Sesame Street-Asian American Muppet, New York, United States - 01 Nov 2021
Photo: Noreen Nasir/AP/Shutterstock

Sesame Street is making history!

This month, the popular children's program will introduce the show's first Asian American character, Ji-Young, Sesame Street announced in a press released obtained by PEOPLE.

Ji-Young will make her debut on See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special, which will celebrate the diversity ofAsian and Pacific Islander (API) communities and feature celebrity guests including: Simu Liu, Padma Lakshmi and Naomi Osaka. The special will premiere Thanksgiving day on HBO Max, Sesame Street social media platforms and local PBS stations.

Described by the Associated Press as being Korean American and 7 years old, Ji-Young is also said to have two passions: "rocking out on her electric guitar and skateboarding."

The outlet also reported that Ji-Young is "looking forward to showing her friends and neighbors aspects of Korean culture such as the food," and loves to craft dishes such as tteokbokki (a.k.a. chewy rice cakes) with her grandmother.

During an interview with AP, Ji-Young explained the meaning behind her name, and shared being on the beloved televised street feels like fate.

"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, per the AP. "But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame."

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Kathleen Kim, Ji-Young's puppeteer, who is also Korean American, was previously accepted into a Sesame Street workshop back in 2014, which later turned into a mentorship and then a spot on part of the show's team in the years that followed.

"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, 41, said to AP, before singling out a lesson that fellow puppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph — who performs as Abby Cadabby — reminded her: "It's not about us ... It's about this message."

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According to Kay Wilson Stallings, the Executive Vice President of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, Ji-Young's creation came about following the anti-Asian hate crimes that occurred amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"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, per the AP.

Kim also noted that it was crucial that Ji-Young not be "generically pan-Asian" because, as she said, "That's something that all Asian Americans have experienced. They kind of want to lump us into this monolithic 'Asian.'"

"I remember like the Atlanta shootings and how terrifying that was for me," Kim added. "My one hope, obviously, is to actually help teach what racism is, help teach kids to be able to recognize it and then speak out against it. But then my other hope for Ji-Young is that she just normalizes seeing different kinds of looking kids on TV."

Stallings said that Ji-Young will also be featured throughout Sesame Street's 53rd season next year, where she will appear in various digital programs, both live-action and animated.

If you've been attacked or have witnessed an attack, please contact your local authorities. You can also report your incident here. To learn more and to report crimes, go to: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Stop the AAPI Hate, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, and Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council.

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