‘Sesame Street’ introduces TJ, its first Filipino muppet

Exciting news for Sesame Street fans, as the beloved children’s show welcomes a new addition to its diverse cast. Meet TJ, the show’s first Filipino muppet, who recently made his debut in a segment alongside actor Kal Penn. 

Joining Ji-Young, a Korean-American muppet introduced in 2021, TJ engages in a conversation with Penn about the word of the day: confidence.

During the segment, Penn describes confidence as believing in oneself and others’ abilities. TJ, in awe of Grover’s confidence, witnesses the blue muppet’s attempt to jump over the Sesame Street sign while riding a unicycle and balancing a tall stack of books. Inspired by the discussion, TJ opens up about his own experiences, revealing that he is learning Tagalog, his Filipino family’s language. He expresses confidence in his ability to seek help from his lola (grandmother) whenever he encounters unfamiliar words.

Sesame Street adds new Filipino muppet “TJ,” who says to Kal Penn: “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.” 🙌🏼 🇵🇭pic.twitter.com/LGth0FVgR5

— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) May 10, 2023

TJ, a 4-year-old second-generation Filipino-American, is characterized as an enthusiastic entertainer who loves spending time with his family, gardening with his grandparents, and taking care of his younger sister. According to Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street, TJ cherishes the moments when his family gathers, especially when they make lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) using the vegetables he personally picked. Additionally, he enjoys engaging in basketball matches and dance-offs with his cousins.

The voice behind TJ is puppeteer and performer Yinan Shentu, while Bobby Pontillas, a Filipino-American animator, played a crucial role in the creation of the character. Pontillas collaborated with Louis Mitchell, Sesame Workshop’s creative director of character design, in bringing TJ to life. Notably, TJ’s appearance is based on the children of two of Pontillas’ friends.

The arrival of TJ on Sesame Street has been celebrated by Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion, and content development. In an Instagram post, she expressed her pride in bringing Filipino representation to the show, especially during API (Asian and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month. Palacios also highlighted the importance of showcasing diverse characters to challenge stereotypes.

TJ joins a growing cast of diverse muppets on Sesame Street. In addition to Ji-Young, the show’s first Asian American muppet, the program introduced Wes and his father Elijah, two Black muppets, in 2021. Furthermore, Ahlan Simsim, the Middle East and North Africa version of Sesame Street, unveiled Ameera, a muppet character who uses a wheelchair, last year.

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