There's a new kid on the street. Sesame Street, that is. His name is TJ and he is their first Filipino muppet. In a recent episode with actor Kal Penn, TJ discusses his growing confidence in learning Tagalog, one of the primary languages spoken in the Phillipines, with the help of his lola ("grandmother").
Filipino American animator Bobby Pontillas collaborated with puppeteer Louis Mitchell to create the muppet. On Instagram, Pontillas shared concept artwork for the character, who he said was inspired by Max and Mateo, the children of lifelong friends. TJ is played by voice actor and puppeteer Yinan Shentu.
Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop's director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, also posted on Instagram about TJ's debut, saying that his arrival came "just in time for API Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora."
She added that she personally felt the topic of confidence could help "unravel the model minority stereotype." The model minority is a persistent myth about Asian Americans' collective, monolithic success. The stereotype ignores disparities within specific Asian ethnic groups and minimizes the role racism plays in the struggles of other minority groups.