The beloved PBS children’s program “Sesame Street” introduced its first Filipino American Muppet during a Sunday episode.
In a segment about what it means to be confident,Kal Penn, Asian Excellence Award winner and former Obama administration staffer, told the new Muppet, TJ, that he had confidence when acting or speaking in front of people and then asked TJ how he showed his confidence.
“Oh, well, I’m learning Tagalog,” he replied. “It’s a language my Filipino family speaks, and I have confidence because I can always ask my lola [grandma] for help when I don’t know a word.”
Ji-Young, a Korean American Muppet who made her debut on “Sesame Street” in 2021, appeared alongside TJ and Penn and said that confidence could be found in support from friends and family. She also showed off her shredding skills when she played a lick on the guitar and said she felt confident when she learned new songs.
TJ was the brainchild of Filipino American animation director Bobby Pontillas, who shared a sketch of TJ on Instagram, saying, “I had the amazing opportunity to work with the geniuses at the Sesame Workshop to create a Filipino Muppet for @sesamestreet ! Meet TJ!”
“For his look, I based him off of my lifelong friends’ kids, Max and Matteo, thank you for the inspiration, lads,” he continued. “I was blessed to collaborate with master puppeteer Louis Mitchell, the loveliest human on earth.”
He thanked collaborators in Tagalog, saying, “Maraming Salamat” to “Rosemary Espina Palacios @rosemvpmary for masterminding this and bringing me along, Yinan Shentu @aznshents for bringing TJ to life, and everyone @sesamestreet for making this happen!”
Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development who is also Filipino, posted the proud moment on Instagram, admitting that she “ugly cried” on set when they finished filming and that she knew her mom was watching and hoped she was just as excited.
“Welcome to Sesame Street, TJ! 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,” she wrote. “His first segment with @kalpenn and Ji-Young is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the model minority stereotype.”
TJ is played by voice actor and puppeteer Yinan Shentu, who also shared several ecstatic selfies with “Sesame Street’s” newest Muppet.