San Jose City Council voted Tuesday night to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from the lobby of City Hall, responding to a longstanding argument about the Italian navigator’s historical significance that briefly spilled over into angry confrontations during the hearing.
The statue has resided in San Jose City Hall since being donated in 1958 by the Italian American Society of San Jose. The work has been twice vandalized in protest in the last 17 years, including an incident in 2001 when an irate man attacked the image with a sledgehammer.
An online petition by the San Jose Brown Berets (a Chicano civil rights group) launched in 2017 decries the statue as historically inaccurate and a symbol of the violent conquest of American tribal groups:
The statue depicting Christopher Columbus perpetuates the false claims that North America was discovered and founded by Columbus and not by the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited the land.
This statue is obscene and offensive to the native community whose ancestry has suffered years of oppression, rape, and genocide at the hands of the figure that now stands at our city hall.
Similar to the 12-foot tall statue of Columbus that overlooks the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, the San Jose statue is a point of pride for some Italian-Americans in the Bay Area. Italian immigrants and their descendants often adopted Columbus imagery as a means of combating anti-Italian discrimination in the 20th century.
Some locals came out to Tuesday’s meeting to defend the image and its namesake.
“I find it disgusting they want to remove the statue,” said San Jose resident Michael Sincini. “There’s no reason to remove it,” Sincini added, occasionally getting into a shouting match with other people in the chamber.
Public comment lasted for hours and featured heated debate between Columbus backers and critics. But in the end, the city decided that the statue should go.
“Let’s see if we can put this behind us,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Before voting, Councilperson Sylvia Arenas commented that Columbus “belongs in history books” but not in City Hall.
Supporters will have six weeks to find a new home for it or else it will simply go into storage. City staff previously suggested a few alternative locales for it, including the airport, but most of the councilmembers decided this would only lead to more hard feelings.