Meet Ji-Young: Sesame Street’s First Asian American Puppet

by Puppet Nerd

Introducing the newest kid on the block!

Meet Ji-Young; she’s no older than 7-years-old, loves to skate, play her electric guitar, and, oh, did we mention she’s making history? As the first Asian American Sesame Street character, Ji-Young couldn’t be making an appearance at a better time.

Why now?

Following the racially-charged scenes that were splashed across our screens and into homes worldwide in 2020 – it’s time to talk. Or, in other words, it’s time to listen.

Over its 52 years, Sesame Street has kept kids from generation to generation glued to its colorful, fun, and silly action. The Sesame Street family has always been diverse and eclectic in a cartoonish way. They’ve addressed everything from cookie addiction to those living in trash cans. Now, reality calls. Upon witnessing major 2020 events such as George Floyd’s death and a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, kids were naturally left with many questions.

The Sesame Street team, intent on answering those questions, has undertaken a multi-year initiative designed to teach children about race, ethnicity, and culture. This ongoing racial justice initiative is aptly named “Coming Together.” It’s tasked with showcasing and celebrating the diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities. One of the first puppets taking on this duty is the Korean-American puppet, Ji-Young.

So, Who is Ji-Young?

Like many great things, Ji-Young starts with a welcome coincidence.

According to Ji-Young, Ji means smart or wise, while Young means courageous, brave, or strong in Korean. But most interestingly, Ji also translates to sesame. However, “Sesame-brave of Sesame Street” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

What does have a ring to it is Ji-Young’s impressive music abilities. Over the course of her story arc, we’ll see her rock out on her beloved electric guitar and enter into a band with Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Tamir. Props to whoever knew Elmo, the puppet of many talents, could play an instrument (unless he’s the singer – tune in to find out!)

Another of Ji-Young’s hobbies is skating, perhaps a nod at the takeover of the skate scene by youngin’s (especially easy to see at this year’s Olympics.)

And where did she pick up all of these interests and qualities? To figure that out, we just have to look towards the person who’ll give her life!

The Inspiration for Ji-Young

In 2014, Kathleen Kim was accepted into a “Sesame Street” workshop. After having started dabbling in puppetry in her 30s, that was no mean feat to achieve in such a short time. Ever impressive, Kim’s stay at the workshop evolved into a mentorship before becoming part of the team the following year.

The Korean American artist will be the hand that guides Ji-Young on her adventures while giving her a voice. And as you’ll see from the following quote by Kim herself, she’s well-qualified to take on the role, “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.” Clearly, the gravity of the newcomer isn’t missed by Kim. Unfortunately, the under (and often mis) representation of Asian-Americans in the media has led to more severe implications in broader life.

Referring to Ji-Young’s specific roots and the generalization of Asian’s in media, Kim says, “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 to us that she was specifically Korean American.” And we couldn’t agree more! It’s clear that puppeteering is keeping up with the times – watch this space.

If you’d like to welcome Ji-Young to our screens and witness history, be sure to tune in to her arrival on November 25th.

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