Tying into Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Sesame Workshop has added a dose of Filipino representation to its longest-running TV series with the introduction of a new Muppet named TJ.
The four-year-old character made his Sesame Street debut on May 7 as part of a short video segment about how to be confident that also features actor Kal Penn and Ji-Young—the show’s first-ever Asian-American Muppet, who was introduced in 2021.
TJ has been carefully crafted to show a broad range of character traits. Rosemary Palacios, the Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, noted in an Instagram post: “[His first segment] is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the ‘model minority stereotype’.” (This term refers to the assumption that Asian minorities are inherently more intelligent, hardworking and successful than other groups.)
TJ’s Sesame Street backstory is that he’s a second-generation Filipino-American who is learning to speak Tagalog, one of the major languages of the Philippines. He has a strong sense of family, enjoys gardening with his grandparents, and is a proud “kuya” (elder brother in Tagalog) to his baby sister.
Animator Bobby Pontillas (Moana) designed the character, and Yinan Shentu does the voicework and puppeteering.
TJ is just the latest new Muppet to join the Sesame Street cast as part of the Workshop’s ongoing efforts to better reflect diversity in its content. In addition to welcoming Ji-Young, the series also introduced Black father-and-son Elijah and Wes in 2021 to discuss racial literacy. And last year, the Arabic version of Sesame Street (Ahlan Simsim) addressed disability representation by bringing in a new Muppet named Ameera, who uses a wheelchair and forearm crutches.
Image courtesy of Sesame Workshop. Photographer: Zach Hyman.