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‘Sesame Street’ debuts its first Filipino American muppet

The new character, named TJ, made his debut Sunday as part of a segment about showing confidence.
/ Source: NBC News

The PBS children’s show “Sesame Street” introduced its first Filipino American muppet on Sunday as part of a segment about showing confidence.

The new character, named TJ, was featured alongside actor Kal Penn and Ji-Young, the show’s first Asian American muppet. In his debut, TJ shared an example in which support from his family had boosted his confidence. 

“I’m learning Tagalog. It’s a language my Filipino family speaks. And I have confidence because I can always ask my lola for help when I don’t know a word,” TJ says, using the Tagalog word for grandmother.

TJ character on Sesame Street.
TJ character on Sesame Street.Sesame Street via YouTube

TJ, played by voice actor and puppeteer Yinan Shentu, is the brainchild of Filipino American animator Bobby Pontillas. The animator shared in an Instagram post that the character’s look was inspired by his lifelong friends’ children, Max and Mateo. 

Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, who is of Filipino descent, said she hoped that the character could challenge some age-old stereotypes. 

“I’m so proud to help bring some Filipino representation to the neighborhood, and just in time for API Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora,” Palacios said in an Instagram post. “His first segment with @kalpenn and Ji-Young is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the model minority stereotype.” 

TJ’s introduction was met with an outpouring of support from many in the Filipino American community, expressing their happiness that younger generations will grow up, seeing themselves represented on the iconic television show. 

The character’s debut comes after the show introduced the history-making muppet Ji-Young, a 7-year-old Korean American skateboarder and guitar shredder, in 2021. Ji-Young, performed by puppeteer Kathleen Kim, in part helped kids process and discuss the concept of anti-Asian racism. 

“It’s necessary for the next generation of kids to understand these issues because they’re real issues and they’re issues that I don’t see going away in the foreseeable future,” Alan Muraoka, who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store on the show and is also Asian American, previously told NBC News. 

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