‘Sesame Street’ debuts its first Filipino American Muppet called TJ


‘Sesame Street’ debuts its first Filipino American Muppet called TJ, who appeared in a segment about the importance of confidence

  • A Filipino American Muppet was added to the Sesame Street in a new episode
  • The new character, TJ, was introduced in a segment alongside Kal Penn 

The children’s show Sesame Street introduced its first Filipino American Muppet on Sunday.

In a segment about what it means to be confident, the new Muppet TJ explained that support from his family gave him confidence in learning how to speak the Filipino dialect Tagalog. 

TJ appeared alongside Ji-Young, a Korean American character introduced during a Thanksgiving episode in 2021, and human actor Kal Penn, a former White House staff member in the Obama administration and actor

Sesame Street has aired on PBS since its debut in 1969 and over the years a number of characters were incorporated into the show.

Children's show Sesame Street introduced its first Filipino American Muppet on Sunday. The new character, TJ, is pictured

Children’s show Sesame Street introduced its first Filipino American Muppet on Sunday. The new character, TJ, is pictured

TJ (left) appeared alongside Ji-Young (right), a Korean American character introduced during a Thanksgiving episode in 2021, and human character Kal Penn (center)

TJ (left) appeared alongside Ji-Young (right), a Korean American character introduced during a Thanksgiving episode in 2021, and human character Kal Penn (center)

During Sunday’s segment, TJ was introduced in a scene in which Penn discusses the idea of confidence and explains where it comes from, and how it can be strengthened.

‘Confidence is when you believe in yourself and you abilities,’ Penn said in the episode. ‘When I’m unsure of myself, I know I have people who support me and believe in me.’

Ji-Young then strummed her guitar and said that playing the instrument gave her confidence. 

‘TJ, how do you show your confidence?’ Penn asked the new character.

‘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,’ TJ responded, using the Tagalog word for grandmother. 

TJ was the idea of Filipino-American animation director Bobby Pontillas, who shared a post on Instagram explaining how he conceived of the character and showing how he evolved.

‘For his look, I based him off of my lifelong friends’ kids, Max and Mateo, thank you for the inspiration lads. I was blessed to collaborate with master puppeteer Louis Mitchell, the loveliest human on earth,’ he wrote.

TJ was the idea of Filipino-American animation director Bobby Pontillas

TJ was the idea of Filipino-American animation director Bobby Pontillas

Sesame Street has aired on PBS since its debut in 1969 and over the years a number of characters have been incorporated into the show

Sesame Street has aired on PBS since its debut in 1969 and over the years a number of characters have been incorporated into the show

In the last few years, the creators of the show, Sesame Workshop, added a number of characters – in 2021 it introduced Elijah Walker and his son Wes – African American characters.

Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, who is of Filipino descent, also posted on Instagram to celebrate TJ’s arrival.

‘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,’ she added.

TJ is played by voice actor and puppeteer Yinan Shentu.



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