‘Sesame Street’ welcomes first Asian muppet, Ji-Young


Josh Tae, Staffer

After first airing in 1976, “Sesame Street” has aired its first Asian-American muppet, Ji-Young. This new hand puppet, voiced by Korean-American Kathleen Kim, made her debut on “Sesame Street’s See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special” that aired this Thanksgiving. 

Something that intrigued me about Ji-Young is her demonstrated interest in skateboarding and Rock and Roll music. Although I’m sure many Asian-Americans have several opinions about her interests, Kim emphasized her excitement towards Ji-Young’s relatability and her appeal to younger generations. But, many other committed Muppets fans have had provocative responses about “Sesame Street’s” take on race and gender. Matt Schlapp, president of the Conservative Political Action Committee, looked down upon this new character and called “Sesame Street’s” insertion of race and gender a “push for woke politics.” Combined with this new muppet and Big Bird’s vaccination, we’re really starting to see him turn into Oscar the Grouch. 

As a Korean-American myself, I didn’t see many kids on my TV screen that weren’t grouped as simply the “Asian” character. Aside from Nickelodeon’s Ni Hao Kai Lan, there wasn’t much Asian representation in any form of media, let alone characters that I could relate to. It was like when I would see those random infomercials online with a sad attempt at a “diverse” cast with an Asian kid or maybe even a Black kid. I’m not sure how I felt when I picked up a story that was supposedly “full of Asian culture” but I couldn’t relate to it at all because of how the term Asian was normalized to fit a culture that wasn’t mine. 

Now, there is absolutely no hate for any of those creators. I genuinely enjoyed reading something where the characters somewhat resemble me, despite the connection simply ending there. But what does that mean for kids like me and those to come after? Don’t get me wrong, I have full confidence that the media is moving towards a realistic depiction of our demographics. It only took “Sesame Street” 45 years, but it is surely a start because they are doing it the right way. 

From the opening of the Special with Ji-Young being told to “go back home” to the reveal of her culture through her family, food and her outspoken hobbies, Ji-Young was “Sesame Street’s” way of responding to the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes in the country. Though many people disagree with this new muppet, it is the program’s way to educate the next generation on real issues that unfortunately don’t seem to be going away. I’m proud of “Sesame Street” and I hope to see others follow their example.