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'Sesame Street' introduces TJ, the show's first Filipino American muppet

TJ is <em>Sesame Street</em>'s first Filipino muppet.
Courtesy of Sesame Workshop. Photographer: Zach Hyman
TJ is Sesame Street's first Filipino muppet.

Updated May 11, 2023 at 12:53 PM ET

Sesame Street has debuted TJ, its first Filipino muppet. TJ joins Ji-Young, the show's first Asian American character, who was introduced in a special Thanksgiving episode in 2021.

In a recent segment of the children's TV show, TJ spends time with fellow muppets Ji-Young and Grover, and actor Kal Penn, who discusses the word of the day: confidence. "Confidence is when you believe in yourself and your abilities, or in the abilities of others," Penn explains.

TJ then talks about his growing confidence while learning Tagalog, one of the main languages spoken in the Philippines. "I'm confident because I can always ask my lola for help when I don't know a word," he says, using the Tagalog term for grandmother.

Filipino American animator Bobby Pontillas collaborated with puppeteer Louis Mitchell to create the muppet. On Instagram, Pontillas shared concept artwork for the character, who he said was inspired by Max and Mateo, the children of lifelong friends. TJ is played by voice actor and puppeteer Yinan Shentu.

Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop's director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, also posted on Instagram about TJ's debut, saying that his arrival came "just in time for API Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora."

She added that she personally felt the topic of confidence could help "unravel the model minority stereotype." The model minority is a persistent myth about Asian Americans' collective, monolithic success. The stereotype ignores disparities within specific Asian ethnic groups and minimizes the role racism plays in the struggles of other minority groups.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.