NEW YORK — "Sesame Street" has introduced its first-ever Filipino American muppet, TJ — the first Asian American character to join the show since Ji-Young, an Asian American muppet who was introduced in a 2021 Thanksgiving episode.
TJ debuted in a video on Sunday in which he learned the meaning of the word "confidence" alongside actor Kal Pen, "Sesame Street" veteran Grover and Ji-Young
In the short video, TJ said he was working on learning Tagalog, the language his Filipino family speaks. He added that he has confidence when learning the language because he can always ask his "Lola," the Tagalog word for grandmother, for help when he doesn't know a word.
Filipino American artist and animator Bobby Pontillas shared initial sketches of TJ's character on Instagram and said he collaborated with master puppeteer Louis Mitchell to create the Filipino American boy.
Pontillas said the character's appearance is inspired by his lifelong friends, Max and Mateo.
"I had the amazing opportunity to work with the geniuses at the Sesame Workshop to create a Filipino muppet for @sesamestreet," Pontillas said in his post. "Meet TJ!"
TJ's character is voiced and puppeteered by Yinan Shentu, who also took to Instagram to share photos of himself with TJ and a behind-the-scenes look at the character's first "Sesame Street" appearance.
Rosemary Espina Palcios, director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development at "Sesame Street," said on Instagram that she is excited to bring TJ and his culture to the beloved children's show.
"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," Palacio wrote. "His first segment with @kalpenn and Ji-Young is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the model minority stereotype."
May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which recognizes the cultures and accomplishments of Asian Americans throughout the U.S.