Despite being on air for the past 50 years, Sesame Street continues to grow as an inclusive show for children and the kids at heart. Recently, they launched TJ, the first Filipino-American muppet, alongside Ji-Young, the show’s first Asian-American muppet.
In the episode where the show discusses confidence, TJ stars alongside other muppets, Grover and live actor Kal Penn. They talk about “believing in yourself and your abilities,” while TJ opens up about learning to speak Tagalog—the primary language in the Philippines.
TJ explains that he is having a hard time sometimes. However, his grandmother is always around for the times he doesn’t know a term. “I’m confident because I can always ask my Lola for help when I don’t know a word,” he says while calling his grandmother using Tagalog.
TJ Takes Center Stage
Bobby Pontillas, a Filipino-American animator, was behind the creation of the beloved Filipino-American muppet. He collaborated with puppeteer Louis Mitchell to create TJ. Pontillas shared on Instagram the concept artwork for the character.
TJ was inspired by Max and Mateo, the children of Pontillas’ lifelong friends. Meanwhile, Yinan Shentu voices TJ. In an Instagram post, Shentu announces the first appearance of TJ, calling it “official.” He then proceeds to thank everyone who has helped in his journey.
Rosemary Palacios, head of Inclusion and Content development for Sesame Street, shares that the topic of confidence is the perfect way to launch TJ in the show. Meanwhile, what better timing to introduce the character during the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month?
She adds that TJ is a 4-year-old, second-generation Filipino-American. He enjoys entertaining his little sister, gardening with his grandparents, and spending time with his other family members when they visit from California. Meanwhile, aside from TJ and Ji-Young, there are also other muppets of color—Wes and his father Elijah—who are Blacks.
The new season of Sesame Street focuses on helping kids develop healthy self-identity and a sense of belonging. Meanwhile, special guests throughout the season include First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Samuel L. Jackson, and sister act HAIM.
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