Meet the Newest Muppet on the World’s Best Loved Street

Ji-Young will debut on the iconic children's program on Thanksgiving.

Nov 22, 2021
Meet the Newest Muppet on the World’s Best Loved Street | Ji-Young will debut on the iconic children's program on Thanksgiving.

Sesame Street has taught millions of children their ABCs and how to count since it premiered in 1969. The iconic children’s programming has also not shied away from dealing with difficult topics like blended families, homelessness, autism, as well as social issues.

Now the multi-colored muppets on the street are being joined by Ji-Young, a 7-year-old Korean American character and her name shows that she belongs there according to AP News. While the two-syllable names in Korean each mean something different with Ji meaning wise and Young meaning brave, it turns out that Ji also means sesame.

The newest muppet loves to play rock music on her electric guitar and to skateboard. She gets most of her personality from her puppeteer. Kathleen Kim, a Korean American. Becoming a puppeteer for the show she watched while growing up was a dream come true for Kim but shaping an original muppet took it to another level.

“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 told AP.

While new muppets usually take at least two years to develop, Ji-Young’s looks and personality were developed in just months. It was important to Kim that the new muppet not be pan Asian but to have the identity of a Korean American who was born in the US.

Ji-Young ‘s Debut
Sesame Workshop will introduce the new muppet in a family special on Thanksgiving, November 25, 2021 that will  celebrate the richness of Asian culture and diversity, according to a news release from the organization. Called See Us Coming Together, the star-studded special event, is part of the organization’s racial justice initiative.

See Us Coming Together was designed for families to watch together and takes the viewers through a special “Neighbor Day” celebration with Ji-Young and special guests that include comic book artist Jim Lee, actors Simu Liu, Padma Lakshm, and Anna Cathcart, as well as athlete Naomi Osaka as they share their talents and cultures with the folks on Sesame street.

The celebration ends with a new song also called “See us Coming Together” that is a reimagined version of the children’s show classic “The People in Your Neighborhood”. The song helps to reinforce the message that children of all backgrounds can be anything they want to be when they grow up.

“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. Today, we uphold that mission by empowering children and families of all races, ethnicities, and cultures to value their unique identities,” Kay Wilson Stallings, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president of creative and production said in the press release.

Sesame Workshop’s Racial Justice Initiative
Ji-Young is the result of the 2020  divisive events in the US that included anti-Asian  incidents. The people at the workshop established two task forces to look at its content and racial diversity according to the press release. The result was Coming Together, an initiative that addresses how to talk to children about racism. While there have been black muppets on the street, there were no Asian ones.

“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 told the AP.

Racism is dealt with very sensitively in the debut when an offscreen kid tells Ji-Young to “go back where you came from.” But she feels stronger and empowered to deal with it after the street’s guests and long-time friends like Elmo reassure her that she belongs as much as they do. And that is a very powerful message.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.