"Sesame Street" is making history and introducing a new Asian American muppet for the very first time. Ji-Young, the seven-year-old Korean American muppet, will mark her debut in the show's Thanksgiving episode.
Ji-Young will be introduced in the "Sesame Street" episode titled "See Us Coming Together," which will air on November 25 on HBO Max, PBS, and the show's YouTube channel. It will feature Alan Muraoka, the show's human Asian American actor and director, who manages Hooper's Store.
In an interview with NBC News, Muraoka said that Ji-Young is a musical child with modern America in her fiber. However, she's still very much Asian in some of her ways, thanks to the influences of her grandmother and her mother's family.
Muraoka, who is a 59-year-old Japanese American theater veteran, helped conceptualize Ji-Young to incorporate more Asian representation in the children's show. The new Asian American muppet will be controlled by Kathleen Kim.
Getting to Know Ji-Young And Kathleen
Kim, 41, is also Korean American just like Ji-Young. She learned to become a puppeteer in her 30s and joined the "Sesame Street" workshop in 2014.
"My one hope, obviously, is to have Ji-Young help teach, what racism is," Kim said about the debut of Ji-Young. "[To] help kids recognize [racism] and then speak out against it."
Kim added that her muppet's name, Ji-Young, translates to "smart or wise" (Ji) and "brave or courageous" (Young) in the Korean language. The muppet's character might love skateboarding or the electric guitar but she is extremely proud of her Asian roots, her big family, and the fact that they have dinner every night together, conversing in both English and Korean languages.
Ji-Young's debut will center around the celebration of diversity among the neighbors on "Sesame Street" and will feature Marvel MCU star Chinese Canadian Simu Liu of the movie "Shang-Chi," Japanese American tennis idol Naomi Osaka, and Cantonese American chef Melissa King. However, Ji-Young will have a moment where she will question "exactly where she belongs," which will open up the conversations about anti-Asian sentiments.
Muraoka said that this idea was borne out of events that occurred in the last few months, amid the heightened attacks against Asian Americans in the U.S. He said that the show has never been shy about addressing these serious issues and the introduction of Ji-Young should fill a need to help end discrimination.
Fighting Asian Hate
In June, "Sesame Street" did a segment called "Proud of Your Eyes," featuring a Filipino American child named Analyn who was ridiculed for her unusual facial features. The short clip was an attempt to contribute to the national discourse about the Asian race.
Muraoka, along with a puppet named Wes, were in the segment as well and sang a song about the beautiful eyes of the Asian people. Analyn's story was designed to help families watching the series to become more aware of the discrimination endured by Asian Americans.
It comes as the Sesame Workshop has conducted a survey that showed 86 percent of kids think that some racial communities receive unfair treatment in the U.S. A third of the respondents in the survey said that they experienced prejudice and racial discrimination.
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