Sesame Street gets its first Filipino muppet | Reckon Firsts - May 16, 2023

Plus, Barbie debuts its first Asian-American doll

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New week, new round of firsts for you.

It can be tough for people to feel like they belong when they don’t see themselves represented in mainstream culture. This week, we’re featuring two firsts in children’s entertainment.

Meet TJ, the newest addition to the Sesame Street family and the first Filipino Muppet to join the show. The creation of the new Filipino Muppet, TJ, was a collaborative effort between animator Bobby Pontillas, who is Filipino American, and puppeteer Louis Mitchell. Bobby Pontillas shared concept artwork for TJ on Instagram and mentioned that the character was inspired by Max and Mateo, the children of his lifelong friends. TJ will be voiced by Yinan Shentu, who is also a puppeteer. TJ loves to sing, dance, and play traditional Filipino games. With his unique background and interests, TJ is set to represent the Filipino community and culture on a global platform.

Find out more about TJ’s debut on Sesame Street here.

Barbie is honoring Anna May Wong’s lifetime of Hollywood achievements with a new doll in their Inspiring Women collection. With her captivating on-screen presence and striking talent, Wong was the first Asian American actress to achieve international stardom. In 1922, she made her film debut in “The Toll of the Sea,” making her the first Asian American actress to play a leading role in a Hollywood production. She was also the first Asian American actress to star in a film with sound, “The Wildcat” (1929), and the first to play the lead in a television series, “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong” (1951). Throughout her career, Wong dealt with countless obstacles in early 20th century Hollywood, including losing roles to white actresses made up in “yellowface,” but she paved the way for future generations of Asian American performers.

Read more about the newest addition to Barbie’s Inspiring Women collection here.

Reckon Firsts is a group project of the Reckon team, but the newsletter is written and compiled by me, Aria Velasquez, Reckon’s Newsletter Strategist and chief writer behind the weekly Reckon Report. My goal with this newsletter is to introduce you to new people who are powering change in our communities.

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Aria Velasquez

Aria Velasquez |

Aria Velasquez is Reckon's newsletter strategist. In previous lives, she worked in social media, audience engagement and local reporting in DC and New York. She's currently based in Atlanta and is probably listening to a podcast as you're reading this.

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