In the South, slavery and the Confederacy are at the center of an ongoing debate about historical monuments. In California, that debate largely centers on colonization and the oppression of indigenous people.
And so as the Bay Area wrestles with the issue, it's not surprising that Christopher Columbus has become a target. In San Jose, a social justice group called the Brown Berets is calling on the city to remove a statue of Columbus in City Hall.
The Brown Berets' online petition has gotten about 1,800 signatures so far.
"Relocate Christopher Columbus statue," the petition reads. "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."
The statue itself is large but unassuming. It's made of marble imported from Italy, according to an inscription.
"Back in the late 1950s, an organization known as the Civic Club, which was an Italian-American collection of business people, donated the statue to the city," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
A native of San Jose and of Italian descent, Liccardo said his grandfather was probably on the board of the Civic Club when the statue was donated. Does the mayor think the statue should be removed?
Liccardo said San Jose honors lots of historic figures by naming schools, community centers and, of course, statues after them. He said these are often people who "accomplished great things, but have also committed great evil."
"Christopher Columbus undoubtedly showed great courage and boldness," said Liccardo. "And at the same time, he governed Hispaniola in ways that by today's standards we'd all say was brutal and inhumane."
But Liccardo says in this case the historical arguments are an aside. As a former prosecutor, Liccardo focuses on the written rules.
"The rules that we've had in City Hall for a decade have said, 'If you're going to have an exhibit, it has to have a direct connection to the city,' " he said.
It's true that Christopher Columbus didn't set foot in San Jose, but the statue was donated by San Jose's Italian-American community. Couldn't you argue that it reflects the culture of a community in San Jose?
"You might say that," said Liccardo. "Although at the time Columbus set sail, he would have been called Genovese and not Italian because the nation of Italy didn't exist for another four or five centuries."
As cities across the country grapple with similar monument debates, Liccardo said he believes mayors should facilitate communication around the issues.
"I'm not interested in secreting any statues out in the dead of night," he said. Instead, Liccardo believes the monument debates could be a teachable moment.
"Clearly there's a significant portion of our community that is pained by the history of colonialism and we all need to hear that," he said. "At the same time, we know in the 1950s, when this was donated, it was donated by a community that felt marginalized in its own way."
Liccardo suspects that after the conversation is had, the community will agree there is a better place for the Christopher Columbus statue in the city.