There’s a new neighbor on Sesame Street! Ji-Young, a 7-year-old Korean American girl, will join the muppet gang next week. Her addition to the cast is a historical first: she’s the first Asian-American character to join the show.
In a special titled “See Us Coming Together” that premieres on Thanksgiving Day, Ji-Young will show how her identity encompasses two cultures. Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store, is also Asian American and can’t wait for Ji-Young to come on board.
“She’s a musician, she plays electric guitar, she’s a girl of the very modern American fabric,” Muraoka tells NBC Asian America. “She recognizes the culture through her relatives — her grandmother, through her mother — and through the food she eats and loves.”
Puppeteer Kathleen Kim will perform the role of Ji-Young, who loves skateboarding and Korean food.
In the special, the Sesame Street gang is celebrating “Neighbor Day,” where Ji-Young will deal with very real issues that occur in the lives of Asian Americans all over the country. For example, another child tells Ji-Young to “go home.” The special, featuring actor Simi Liu and tennis pro Naomi Osaka, will show how her friends and neighbors show up for her and help her feel welcome in her new neighborhood.
It’s not the first time Sesame Street has educated its youn viewers on very real issues occuring in the world around them. Dating as far back as the 1970s, the show taught children not to be afraid of the MMR vaccine. More recently, Big Bird and Rosita helped kids prepare for the COVID vaccine. Last year, the show also created a special about racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
Muraoka, who has advocated for more Asian representation on Sesame Street tells NBC News that the show helps kids understand the issues that surround them in an age-appropriate way while also guiding them on how to have difficult conversations.
The pandemic resulted in an increase in anti-Asian racism and violence across the country. Last year, the show featured an episode about anti-Asian discrimination by featuring a Filipino-American girl, Analyn, who had been teased about the shape of her eyes. In the Thanksgiving special, Sesame Street will continue to address racism and discrimination.
“People are seeing the need for it now, especially with the rise in American violence,” Muraoka said. “I think it’s absolutely because the nation as a whole woke up.”