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"Sesame Street" makes history with its first Asian American Muppet, Ji-Young, joining the cast

"Sesame Street" makes history with its first Asian American Muppet, Ji-Young, joining the cast

Kathleen Kim, the puppeteer performing the character, feels like it's a dream come true to play a role on the show she grew up watching. She added, "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."

Fifty-two years after the program first aired, Sesame Street is making history by adding the first Asian American muppet to the cast.

The new Muppet named Ji-Young is already sending waves of excitement among viewers and is slated to first appear before the audience in a Thanksgiving Day debut. The special episode is titled "See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special" and will have 7-year-old Korean American girl Ji-Young showing what it's like to have her identity blended together by two cultures.



 

Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store on the show, described the new character and said, as quoted by NBC News, "She’s a musician, she plays electric guitar, she’s a girl of the very modern American fabric. She recognizes the culture through her relatives—her grandmother, through her mother—and through the food she eats and loves."

Ji-Young also introduced herself in an interview with The Associated Press and said, "So, 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. But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame."



 

The sprightly character will be performed by 41-year-old puppeteer, Kathleen Kim, who also loves eating spicy Korean rice cakes and taking her skateboard out for a spin much like Ji-Young.

Kim feels like it's a dream come true to breathe life into a character of a show she grew up watching. "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 said.

That's when her fellow puppeteer, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who plays the character Abby Cadabby, told Kim: "It’s not about us... It’s about this message."



 

A lot of thought went into the creation of Ji-Young's character, and Kim wanted to make sure she was not "generically pan-Asian."

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

As young kids watch Ji-Young on the beloved children's show, the hope is that their little minds will learn how to be a good "upstander."

“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. We want our audience to understand they can be upstanders," said Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice-president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street.



 

Through Ji-Young, the show hopes to address issues faced by many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. "People are seeing the need for it now, especially with the rise in American violence," Muraoka said, as quoted by NBC News. "I think it’s absolutely because the nation as a whole woke up."

Cover image source: Sesame Street/Facebook

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