The latest addition to Sesame Street’s cast of characters is a boy named TJ—the show’s very first Filipino American Muppet.
As NPR reports, TJ made his TV debut in a ‘Word of the Day’ segment about confidence alongside Grover, actor Kal Penn, and Ji-Young—a Korean American girl who made history as Sesame Street’s first Asian American Muppet in 2021.
Grover’s confidence in himself to perform an Evel Knievel–inspired feat (namely, sailing over the Sesame Street sign on a tricycle) prompts the others to discuss what they feel confident about. Ji-Young feels confident while mastering new songs on her guitar; Penn’s confidence comes out while acting or public speaking. TJ, who’s learning Tagalog—one of the Philippines’ most spoken languages—is confident that he can always ask his lola (Tagalog for “grandmother”) for help when he comes across an unfamiliar word.
Sesame Workshop also shared some other details about TJ with Mental Floss. He’s a four-year-old, second-generation Filipino American whose parents came to Sesame Street by way of California, where many members of their family still live. TJ’s grandparents, on the other hand, live in the same building as he does, and you can often find him lending a hand in their vegetable garden. If his relatives are in town, TJ and his mom will use some of those veggies to cook up batches of lumpia, or fried spring rolls, which will surely help fuel TJ and his cousins through their favorite activities: basketball and dance-offs. He’s also a “proud kuya [“older brother” in Tagalog] to his baby sister,” whom he loves to amuse “with a funny voice, song, or dance.”
TJ was designed by Filipino American animator Bobby Pontillas, who shared on Instagram that he modeled the character after his “lifelong friends’ kids, Max and Mateo.” Puppeteer Louis Mitchell helped realize the design; and Yinan Shentu operates and voices the puppet. Rosemary Espina Palacios, Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion, and content development, wrote on Instagram that she’s “so proud to help bring some Filipino representation to the neighborhood, and just in time for [AAPI] Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora.”
We’ll have to wait and see what else the Sesame Street creators have in store for TJ, but you can probably count on some more fun, informative, and celebrity-studded appearances in the future. Follow Sesame Street’s YouTube channel to keep up with the latest developments.