What Tsehay Hawkins Making History In The Wiggles Means To Me

When it comes to children's entertainment in Australia, The Wiggles immediately spring to mind, and while the group has been around for 20 years, its strides in the diversity space have been more recent.
Today it was announced that Emma Watkins, who became the first female member of the group in 2013 – replacing founding member Greg Page – will be leaving to spend more time at home and complete her PhD. She will be replaced by Tsehay Hawkins.
Image supplied
Tsehay Hawkins is the new yellow Wiggle of The Wiggles
Hawkins, who was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Australia, was one of three people of colour (POC) recently announced as part of The Wiggles' Fruit Salad TV cast on YouTube.
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Watkins joining The Wiggles over 10 years ago was monumental for female representation, and now Hawkins stepping into her shoes is another praiseworthy moment as she's the first Black woman to be a main cast member of The Wiggles.
When I watched The Wiggles in the 90s while growing up, the founding members were on my TV screen, of which only one was a POC, Jeff Fatt. I loved the group and nothing will take away from the fond memories I have of imitating the 'Hot Potato' dance or begging my mum to buy me a Dorothy the Dinosaur tail to wear to pre-school.
But what we watch when we're young has a significant impact on how we form views of the world and ourselves. Those formative years are critical as we learn from the media what society deems acceptable and what it expects from us.
For me, as a brown girl, the daughter of Fijian Indian immigrants, the only person I remember seeing that I could visually relate to was Black British presenter Trisha Goddard from Play School.
From today, when young children from culturally diverse backgrounds see Hawkins donning the yellow skivvy, they will learn that it's OK to look how they do, that they have a place at school, on their local sport team and on TV.
I'm not alone in recalling a childhood that lacked culturally diverse role models in media.
Culture critic Vyshnavee Wijekumar told the ABC's The World Today radio program this morning that she struggled to find her place growing up as she navigated the Sri Lankan Tamil Culture at home and then "a kind of colonial Western system through the education system, and through social interactions" outside of home.
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"You always felt like you were trying to aspire to a lifestyle or a type of community that you could never really quite fit in," she said.
"I think that's why representation is so important to show that there are other experiences outside of the dominant white narrative. Young children should see that so that they know that their experiences and their culture and their practice is just as important."
In August First Nations ballerina Evie Ferris was announced as one of four additions to The Wiggles' Fruit Salad TV lineup on YouTube alongside Chinese Australian dancer Kelly Hamilton, Justice Crew member John Pearce of Filipino descent and Hawkins.
Ferris agreed representation on The Wiggles is truly needed for its young audience because kids form perspectives in those early years.
"At that age, we learn without even realising and we're just absorbing everything that we see and hear," she told Refinery29 Australia.
"It might not be as monumental for some children, but if someone can turn on the TV and then take what they see and then believe that they're good enough and special enough to go for really big goals, then that's absolutely what we're trying to do."
Tsehay will soon join Anthony Field, Lachy Gillespie and Simon Pryce on The Wiggles' Fruit Salad TV Big Show arena tour around Australia, which will also feature Ferria, Hamilton and Pearce.
As excited as I am for The Wiggles' other big announcement today, an over 18s event featuring the original cast, I can't help but reserve the majority of my warm and fuzzy energy for Hawkins joining the group.
It's another step towards greater representation on screen and I know there'll be many young faces feeling feel seen and heard. And for that, I'll whip out my Dorothy the Dinosaur tail to do my own happy (Hot Potato) dance.

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