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'Sesame Street' introduces a new character

Meet Ji-Young, the first Korean American "Sesame Street" character, arriving November 25.
/ Source: TODAY

The "Sesame Street" gang is welcoming a new friend to the neighborhood! Ji-Young, the show's first Korean American character, will debut in a Thanksgiving Day special, "See Us Coming Together."

The special, which airs November 25, is part of the organization’s ongoing racial justice initiative, "Coming Together," and will celebrate the diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities.

Designed for families to watch together, "See Us Coming Together" follows the Sesame Street friends through a “Neighbor Day” celebration with new friend Ji-Young, a 7-year-old who lives with her parents, siblings and grandma, or halmeoni in Korean. She plays the electric guitar and has a band with Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Tamir.

Celebrity guests on the special include actors Simu Liu and Anna Cathcart, comic book artist Jim Lee, chef Melissa King, television personality Padma Lakshmi, and athlete Naomi Osaka.

The special also includes an opportunity for talking about anti-Asian racism.

In an offscreen incident, another child tells Ji-Young to “go home," just one example of discrimination Asian and Pacific Islander people face in western countries where they’re often perceived as “perpetual foreigners.”

Alan Muraoka, who joined the "Sesame Street" cast in 1998, said the timing of the special is important.

"Throughout the years we’ve absolutely dealt with Asian American issues (on the show), but especially with both the pandemic and aftermath of anti-Asian American violence, it felt really necessary," he told TODAY Parents.

The Japanese American actor, who plays the owner of Mr. Hooper's store on the show, shared the importance of representation.

“It’s a powerful thing when kids see people like themselves represented on screen and in stories — it supports them as they figure out who they are and who they want to be," he added in a press release.

Muraoka co-directed the special.

"'Sesame Street' has always been on the cutting edge of talking about topics that sometimes are difficult but relating them in a way that parents and children can understand and start that conversation," Muraoka told TODAY. "I'm very excited to both celebrate Asian American heritage and celebrate it on a show that is so iconic."

Earlier this year, two new Muppets, a Black father and son, were introduced on the show as part of an effort to help children understand racial literacy. Wes and Elijah debuted in a short video created by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the long-running show.

In the video, Elmo wants to know why Wes's skin is brown, so his father Elijah explains the concept of melanin and how "the color of our skin is an important part of who we are," according to a press release from Sesame Workshop.

"After what happened last summer, we knew we had to be more explicit about talking about race because children and families need it," Rocio Galarza, a vice president at Sesame Workshop, told TODAY in March 2021.

Kay Wilson Stallings, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president of creative and production, said the company's mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

"Today, we uphold that mission by empowering children and families of all races, ethnicities, and cultures to value their unique identities,” she said. “This new special continues Sesame Street’s proud legacy of representation with an engaging story that encourages empathy and acceptance and uplifts Asian and Pacific Islander communities.”

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