After months of impassioned debate, San Jose’s City Council voted to remove the Christopher Columbus statue from the City Hall lobby. But officials have yet to decide on a place to relocate the monument of the controversial explorer.
The vote, which came at a late hour Tuesday night, set a six-week deadline to find a new home for the statue or else store it away. Mayor Sam Liccardo said he wants the city to work with the Italian-American community to find a suitable spot for the marble statue.
Councilors were considering four options for the statue: leave it, sock it away in a service yard, plop it in the Bank of Italy at History Park or tuck it behind a security checkpoint at the Mineta San Jose International Airport.
Activists lobbying to remove Columbus from such a prominent public space, where it has repeatedly been the target of vandalism, see the statue as an offensive glorification of a European colonialist who brutalized indigenous people. As council members deliberated over the statue’s fate, some in the audience held up signs calling for its removal while others stood and turned their backs in silent protest.
Stand San Jose, a group of community organizers, said keeping the statue in a public place would renew trauma of generations of violence. Below is an open letter the group penned to the council days before their vote.
Peter Ortiz—a San Jose resident and member of the Brown Berets, a Chicano activist group—said he hoped for the sculpture to be moved out of a public area and did not support the option of having it placed inside of the airport.
“We are against a Christopher Columbus statue in a public setting because of the crimes against humanity,” Ortiz told San Jose Inside. “We see the statue in City Hall as glorifying, as a symbol of oppression.”
Leading up to the meeting, Ortiz and other Brown Berets expressed anger at downtown Councilman Raul Peralez for changing his mind about where to put the statue.
“We had been meeting with, we let him know what our positions were, we agreed that it had no place in City Hall,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know if its because he’s up for re-election or what because obviously this is going to be a highly publicized item.”
During the council session, Peralez said he agreed to find a better location for the monument, but that he also made a commitment to not have it stored away.
Because while the statue evokes outrage for some, Peralez noted, it is seen as a piece of history for others. “It’s complex,” Liccardo said from the dais, adding that he’s “not a fan of simply burying history.”