“Sesame Street” has welcomed its first Filipino muppet.
TJ the muppet, created by Filipino American animation director Bobby Pontillas, was introduced in a recent episode of the iconic children’s show.
During a segment the Filipino muppet shared with actor Kal Penn, Grover and Korean American muppet Ji-Young, Penn explains, “Confidence is when you believe in yourself and your abilities or in the abilities of others.”
In the scene, TJ reveals how he feels confident while learning Tagalog, the local dialect spoken by his Filipino family.
“I’m confident because I can always ask my lola for help when I don’t know a word,” he says.
Pontillas, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2019 for his short film “One Small Step,” shared on social media that he based TJ’s appearance on his lifelong friends’ kids, Max and Mateo.
TJ the muppet has brown skin, side-swiped black hair, a purple nose and wears a yellow and orange-striped hoodie.
“I was blessed to collaborate with master puppeteer Louis Mitchell, the loveliest human on earth,” Pontillas said in an Instagram post where he shared some concept art for the muppet.
He also expressed his gratitude to Sesame Workshop for giving him the opportunity to create a Filipino muppet for the show.
Sesame Workshop’s director of Talent Outreach, Inclusion, and Content Development Rosemary Espina Palacios also welcomed TJ to “Sesame Street” in her own Instagram post.
I’m so proud to help bring some Filipino representation to the neighborhood, and just in time for [Asian American and Pacific Islander] Heritage Month to show the range in our diaspora. His first segment with @kalpenn and Ji-Young is all about confidence, something I personally feel can help unravel the model minority stereotype.
Palacios also thanked puppeteer and voice actor Yinan Shintu for bringing TJ to life and the “Sesame Street” team for making the new muppet possible.