What Do You Get When You Put A Dodgers Jersey On A Superhuman Japanese Folk Hero? A Library Card!
The Los Angeles Public Library has released a new library card -- and it's literally a work of art.
Artist Gajin Fujita took an iconic character from Japanese folklore, mixed in some instantly recognizable L.A. symbolism, and came up with a painting called "Guardian Angel."
It depicts the Japanese folklore character Kintaro, a.k.a. Golden Boy, a child of superhuman strength, fighting a demon. That would have been cool enough on its own, but Fujita decided that Kintaro needed an L.A. touch -- so he dressed him in a Dodgers jersey, with a bright blue bandana around his neck.
"I thought that would be perfect to represent Los Angeles," Fujita says.
And who better than a Boyle Heights native who spent a lot of his childhood hanging out in a local library branch overseen by an inspirational librarian to create the new art card.
Fujita said he was a shy kid who had a tough time growing up as one of the few Japanese American kids in his mostly Latino neighborhood. He and his brothers spent much of their time at the Robert Louis Stevenson branch, where he flipped through encyclopedias of tropical fish.
He said they preferred playing outside during summer, but his father insisted that they read. Besides, the library had some important practical resources for beating the summer heat.
"It had AC and it had water," Fujita says, laughing. "We weren't even teens yet so instead of hanging out in the streets, I think the library like saved us in a sense."
Pearl Yonezawa can take some of the credit for that. Fujita says she was an inspiring -- and, as another Japanse American, comforting -- presence. "I'm sure I wasn't aware at the time but she was probably like looking after us," he said.
Yonezawa noticed Fujita and his brothers, too. Now the senior librarian at the Los Feliz branch, Yonezawa says many former young patrons have gone on to success over the course of her 47-year career. But seeing Fujita's work on the library card is sort of a full circle moment.
"It's really exciting and makes you feel proud. I have the card [and] I've made it into a little pin," she said. "[Librarians] always like to know that we can connect somehow to our patrons and make them feel a connection to the library."
LA Public Library spokesman Peter Persic said Fujita's painting was chosen for the card because it reflects the library's mission.
"It is bold and it's exciting and it's unexpected," he said. "We really see the art card as an exciting way to celebrate LA's incredible artistic culture and its diverse talents."
Fujita hopes the card will inspire young people to visit their libraries and adults to reconnect with it.
Liz Lap just picked up her card after reading about Fujita's story. She's new to L.A. but said she relates to Fujita because she was also a child of immigrants who spent most of her childhood in her local library.
"I have it in my wallet and it's so beautiful to look at. It gives me a sense of pride," Lap said.
This is the second art card that the LA Public Library has released. The first was in 2016 by artist Shepard Fairey. Only 100,000 were made and are available at all 73 locations. New applicants can get them for free, and if you're already a card holder, you can exchange yours for just $3.
This story also ran on the radio. Listen here.