SESAME STREET: THE NEW ASIAN MUPPET THAT IS NO PUPPET

ALYSSA MONTALVO WRITES — The iconic and dearly loved children’s television show, ‘Sesame Street,’ will add its first Asian American muppet, named Ji-young, on Thanksgiving Day ​​with itsSee Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special.’

According to Channel News Asia (CNA), “At only seven years old, Ji-young is making history as the first Asian American muppet in the Sesame Street canon. She is Korean American and has two passions: Rocking out on her electric guitar and skateboarding”.

And if that wasn’t exciting already, the meaning behind her name proves she is meant to be there. As noted by the character when interviewed by CNN, “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.”

Ji-Young’s puppeteer is Kathleen Kim, who is Korean American. As Ms. Kim, 41, told the AP: “My one hope, obviously, is to actually help teach what racism is, help teach kids to be able to recognize it and then speak out against it. But then my other hope for Ji-Young is that she just normalizes seeing different kinds of looking kids on TV”.

‘Sesame Street,’ which aired 52 years ago, and has become a part of the global family by virtue of its educational purposes in addition to well-developed characters to whom everyone can relate. Despite how old you are, you can happily enjoy Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Count von Count, and so many more beloved characters.

But why did it take one of the longest-running shows on television until now to include an Asian American character?

In the past two years the world has seen a wave of anti-Asian hate. Specifically, in the U.S. we have seen a rise of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders due to the coronavirus pandemic. NBC issued two reports on the subject in August and October: Asian American reporter Kimmy Yam mentions that  “while many Asian Americans have attributed the heightened anti-Asian bias to former President Donald Trump’s harmful rhetoric in the past, the report shows that anti-Asian bias is an enduring issue that continues to thrive under the Biden administration.” Among the most concerning findings in the reports  was the invocation of anti-China rhetoric: In more than 48 percent of all hate incidents, “anti-China and/or anti-immigrant rhetoric was included in at least one hateful statement.”

Another NBC Asian American reporter, Sakshi Venkatraman states, “Graphic videos of attacks on Asian elders and a shooting that killed six women of Asian descent at spas in the Atlanta area in March reopened national conversations on Asian American civil rights and led many to ask what it takes to constitute a hate crime. They can be hard to prosecute, experts say, and the laws that define them can vary largely from state to state.”

This muppet, then, is more than just a new character.  Although it has taken far too long to acknowledge this problem and include such an important character, the entrance of JiYoung on the world stage signifies a step in the right direction towards ending the anti-Asian hate. May the show continue.

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