Sesame Street’s first Asian American character warmly welcomed: ‘Representation matters’

Sesame Street’s first Asian American character warmly welcomed: ‘Representation matters’

Sesame Street’s first Asian American character is set to make her first appearance on the iconic show later this month.

Ji-Young, 7, is a Korean American puppet with two main passions - playing her electric guitar and skateboarding.

She will make her debut during the show’s Thanksgiving special next Thursday alongside a host of celebrity guests including actor Simu Liu, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi and tennis player Naomi Osaka.

The puppet was created after several discussions during 2020, such as the death of George Floyd and the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents.

The show also introduced Tamir last October. While not the show’s first black puppet, he was the first to talk about subjects such as race.

Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice-president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop, told the AP that they want Ji-Young to teach children how to be “upstanders”.

Stallings said: “Being an upstander means you point out things that are wrong or something that someone does or says that is based on their negative attitude towards the person because of the colour of their skin or the language they speak or where they’re from. We want our audience to understand they can be upstanders.”

Since the news broke this morning, people have taken to Twitter to warmly welcome the show’s new addition.

Entrepreneur Dave Lu said: “It may just be a puppet, but for Asian kids to see themselves in Ji-Young, they won’t feel so different. And for others who don’t know any Asians, they will become familiar with a character who will help.”

Some of the punky puppet’s personality is drawn from her puppeteer, Kathleen Kim.

Kim, 41, who is also Korean American, said it was important the puppet wasn’t “generically pan-Asian”.

Kim said: “Because that’s something that all Asian Americans have experienced. They kind of want to lump us into this monolithic ‘Asian’. So it was very important that she was specifically Korean American, not just like, generically Korean, but she was born here.”

In the Thanksgiving special, Ji-Young will become upset after being told by an off-screen kid to “go back home”. However, she will be supported by the rest of the cast.

Kim said: “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.”

Although Ji-Young has an important educational job to do, we can also expect to see her engage in silly antics and light-hearted mischief in the future.

Ji-Young joins the show as the TV programme celebrates its 52nd on-air anniversary this month.

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks Sesame Street has made headlines.

In perhaps the most bizarre Twitter beef we’ve seen in a while, Republican politicians and anti-vaxxers rowed with Big Bird after he tweeted about receiving his Covid vaccine.

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