Sesame Street has always been about community and supporting your neighbor. Over the past few decades, it’s been working on inclusivity, and recently a new neighbor named Ji-Young has made her debut. As the first Asian American muppet, Ji-Young’s first episode aired and it’s an important message about belonging, and how the rise of anti-Asian racism and abuse has impacted the community.
“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,” Ji-Young explained in an interview, according to the Associated Press. “But we were looking it up and guess what? Ji also means sesame.”
Ji-Young is a 7-year-old Korean American who loves skateboarding and her electric guitar. She made her debut on Thanksgiving Day on HBO Max and Sesame Street social media platforms. The full first episode titled “See Us Coming Together,” features several appearances from Simu Liu, Naomi Osaka, and Padma Lakshmi, to celebrate the diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The episode starred and was directed by longtime Sesame Street actor Alan Muraoka, and the first episode can be watched in full on YouTube.
Ji-Young made an impactful first impression, opening the dialogue of anti-Asian hate that’s been escalating over the past few years across the United States. But she’s not a one-and-done character. Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice-president of Creative and Production for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, explains that Ji-Young will be a big presence of the show’s 53rd season next year.
The AP explains, “she also won’t just be utilized for content related to racial justice. She will pop up in various digital programs, live-action and animated.”
The new character is a long overdue and very necessary move for the show to add to its inclusivity with its first Asian-American muppet. But, equally so, it’s great to know Ji-Young is going to be a present character moving forward, and not always in the context of racial justice work.
You can watch new episodes of Sesame Street on HBO Max.