'Sesame Street' Introduces The First Asian American Muppet Character, Ji-Young
By: April Carson
What's in a name? Ji-Young, the newest muppet resident of "Sesame Street," believes her name is a message that she was meant to reside there.
“So, in Korean, the two syllables have distinct meanings, with Ji signifying smart or wise and Young meaning brave or courageous and strong. But guess what? According to Google, ji also means sesame.” Ji-Young revealed during a recent interview.
Ji-Young is the first Asian American muppet in "Sesame Street" history, having debuted at age 7. She's Korean American and loves to rock out on her electric guitar as well as skateboard. The children's TV program, which debuted 52 years ago this month, granted The Associated Press a peek at its new inhabitant.
In "See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special," Nick will formally introduce Ji-Young. The all-new “Sesame Street” holiday special, which will premiere Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max, "Sesame Street" social media platforms, and local PBS stations, features appearances from Jessica Chastain, Padma Lakshmi, Naomi Osaka, and others.
For certain portions of her personality, Ji-Young's puppeteer is to blame. Kathleen Kim, a 41-year-old Korean American, has been involved in puppet theatre since she was in her 30s. In 2014, she had the opportunity to participate in a "Sesame Street" workshop. It turned into a mentorship and an appointment to the team the following year. It was a dream come true for Kim to be a puppeteer on a program that she had watched as a youngster. However, developing an unique muppet is another level of difficulty.
“I get the impression that I have a lot of weight to carry as an adult in order to teach these lessons and represent myself as a youngster did not have,” Kim added. “It's not about us...” declared fellow puppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph — who plays Abby Cadabby — in response to her selfishness. “It's all about this message,” she added.
The introduction of 'Ji-Young' is the result of a number of discussions that followed George Floyd's death and anti-Asian hate incidents in 2020. “Like a lot of companies, ‘Sesame Street’ had to reflect on how it might ‘measure up to the moment,'” Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice-president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street," said.
Sesame Workshop established two task forces, one to examine its content and another to evaluate the diversity of its employees. The goal was for Coming Together, a multi-year project that seeks to address how to discuss race, ethnicity, and culture with children.
Tamir was 8 years old when he made his appearance on Sesame Street. While not the show's first Black muppet, he was one of the first to speak about such issues as racism.
“When we knew we were going to be doing work that focused on the Asian and Pacific Islander experience, we realized we needed to develop an Asian muppet as well,” Stallings added.
The newer muppets, according to Stallings, were very well-made in a matter of months. The procedure generally takes at least a couple of years. Outside experts and a cross-section of workers known as the "culture trust" evaluate every aspect of a new muppet, according to Stallings.
Ji-Young must not be “genericly pan-Asian,” according to Kim.
“Because that's something that all Asian Americans have faced. They want to put us into a single, monolithic category called "Asian." As such, it was critical for her to be born and raised in the United States.”
Ji-Young will also teach youngsters how to be a "upstander." The term "upstander" was first used on the HBO 'Tales of Varieties' episode “The Power of We,” which focused on Tamir.
“Being an upstander means you point out issues that are wrong or things people say or do because of their negative attitude toward someone based on their race, ethnicity, language, or country of origin,” Stallings added. “We want our audience to know they can be upstanders.”
In “See Us Coming Together,” Sesame Street is getting ready for Neighbor Day, when neighbors exchange food, music or dance from their heritage. Ji-Young becomes enraged after a youngster off screen tells her to return home, an offensive term often used against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. But after other Sesame Street characters, special guests, and supporters like Elmo tell her that she belongs as much as anybody else, she feels stronger.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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