After more than five decades, Sesame Street introduces its first ever Asian American muppet on the show. The new member is Ji-Young--a 7-year-old, Korean American who loves to play her electric guitar and practice her skateboarding skills. She loves food and is excited to share all her favorites like tteokbokki (spicy, chewy rice cakes), kimchi (fermented vegetable), japchae (stir-fried glass noodles), kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), and many more.
Kids will meet her in “See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special” this Thanksgiving, together with Simu Liu, Padma Lakshma, Naomi Osaka, and many other celebrity features. You can view this episode on HBO Max, different “Sesame Street” social media platforms, and on local PBS stations.
With the rise of Asian Hate in recent years, this “Coming Together'' special is the show’s initiative against Asian injustices and a chance to discuss Anti-Asian racism. Hence, when coming up with an AAPI muppet, her proper representation was given the utmost importance. For Kathleen Kim, puppeteer and inspiration for Ji-Young, it was crucial that Ji-Young is not “generically pan-Asian.”
“That’s something that all Asian Americans have experienced. They kind of want to lump us into this monolithic ‘Asian,’” Kim said. “It was very important that she was specifically Korean American, not just like, generically Korean, but she was born here.”
Even the name Ji-Young was carefully thought-out. As Ji-Young, herself, explained in an interview, “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.” And as if it was fate, Ji also means sesame!
Aside from representation, another thing to look forward to is how Ji-Young will help teach children to be a good “upstander.” An upstander, which initially means “one of the handlebars of an Eskimo sledge” as defined by Merriam-Webster, was given a profound meaning in the Sesame Street universe.
As explained by Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice-president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street, “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 color of their skin or the language they speak or where they’re from.” She added that they want the Sesame Street audience to understand they can be upstanders.
It is indeed admirable for a long-running, classic show to take a step and create a space to make children understand diversity, race, and being a good upstander. For a child to see a version of them in the media helps in letting them know that they do belong.
Remember when Hamilton was officially released online? A video went viral of an Asian little girl proclaiming “It’s me!” while pointing at Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo) who actually did look like her. A good time indeed! May Ji-Young’s debut spark more moments like this and inspire more little, budding Asian Americans.