After 52 years of slowly growing inclusion, Sesame Street has finally introduced their newest addition, Ji-Young, the very first Asian-American muppet. Ji-Young is a seven-year-old Korean American who loves to play music, specifically with her guitar.
Introducing Ji-Young to the younger generation will not only show inclusion and diversity to its audience, but also give other Asian American children a chance to see themselves on the screen. As such, the inclusion of Ji-Young is directly in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Reduced Inequalities.
Over the last few years there has been a rise in the popularity of Korean culture through the ever-popular musical scene, K-Pop. Yet, there has also been a major setback for Asian Americans who have been facing increased racism and hate during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in the Wuhan region of China in 2019.
Kathleen Kim, the 41-year-old puppeteer for Ji-Young is quoted from an interview with NPR as saying, “My only hope, obviously, is to have Ji-Young help teach what racism is. Help kids to be able to recognize it and then speak out against it.”
Several other Asian Americans also found a lot of joy from the inclusion of Ji-Young on Sesame Street. Nancy Wang Yuen, an American professor and sociologist tweeted, “Watching the new Asian American muppet Ji-Young count “hana [one], dul [two], set [three]” to ‘Elmo’s Song’ ending as ‘Ji-Young’s song,’ I did not expect to cry so hard. Thank you, Sesame Street.”
The inclusion is exciting, but not shocking for the network after slowly growing their representation over the years. Julia, a four-year-old muppet with autism was introduced in 2015 and was a huge inclusion for children on the spectrum, as Julia was created by a group of researchers and autism advocates.
Ji-Young is not just inclusion for young Asian Americans, but rather a symbol of hope for the entirety of the Asian-American community who are seeking to be involved in the film industry. Just recently, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premiered in theatres and dominated the box office, so far earning $431.3 million according to Google. Simu Liu starred as the titular character, while actors Awkwafina, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Meng’er Zhang also joined the film’s cast.
The success of Shang-Chi has only proven a success for Asian American actors everywhere, and brings more attention to their inclusion in other popular movies and television shows. The introduction of Ji-Young in the wake of Shang-Chi’s success, along with the help of Simu Liu himself to introduce the muppet, only boosts her mission of inclusivity, continuing to educate children in the fight against inequalities.
To see Ji-Young playing her guitar, counting in Korean, speaking about her Korean culture, and fighting to reduce the inequalities the Asian American community faces, watch her on Sesame Street! New episodes air on PBS as well as HBO MAX every Thursday.