- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

Diplomats yesterday extolled Christopher Columbus’ legacy during the 93rd annual Columbus Day celebration in the District.

“Throughout the centuries, our identity has been formed through our interaction with the Western Hemisphere,” said Juan J. Buitrago, counselor for Hispanic affairs at the Spanish Embassy. “Queen Isabella supported the four Columbus expeditions. That decision changed the world and Spain forever.”

Mr. Buitrago was joined by diplomats from Italy and the Bahamas in celebrating the 512th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Columbus was an Italian sea captain for whom Spain funded a westward expedition to the East Indies. He instead landed in the Caribbean Sea on Oct. 12, 1492.

“It makes me proud to be connected to a culture that brought this about,” said retired Army employee Richard Sforza, 83, of Alexandria. “I’m just proud of my heritage.”

A first-generation Italian-American whose parents emigrated from Bari, Italy, Mr. Sforza was one of about 100 people who participated in or watched the celebration at the Columbus statue in front of Union Station.

Sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Columbus Celebration Association, the festivities began with a prelude by the U.S. Marine Band.

Adding to the pagentry, local members of the Knights of Columbus Color Corps donned hats with colorful plumes as they accompanied soldiers of the U.S. Armed Forces Honor Guard in the posting of the colors.

Many of the event’s participants took up permanent seats in one of the 500 chairs set up for the event, but several passers-by stopped to hear remarks from the diplomats and observe a wreath-laying ceremony.

Thomas J. Hogan, a member of the board for the National Columbus Celebration Association, said he was thankful that protesters did not interrupt the ceremony.

Protesters have vandalized the statue in the past, motivated by feelings that Columbus’ explorations hurt native inhabitants. Two years ago, protesters dumped red paint on the statue, said Mr. Hogan, 71.

After yesterday’s event, a small group of demonstrators taped around the base of the Columbus statue about a dozen fliers that read, “This land was occupied.”

Rachael Javidan of Tucson, Ariz., who said she is descended from Mexican Indians, watched the vandals and later said the act was an inappropriate response to the Columbus Day commemoration.

“I think this is a wonderful country that has provided people from all over the world the chance to experience real freedom,” said Mrs. Javidan, 50, who was visiting the District to attend the baptism of her grandson.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s group, lobbied Congress in 1892 to create the Columbus memorial, which was dedicated in 1912.

President Richard Nixon signed legislation in 1971 designating Columbus Day a national holiday. It is observed the second Monday in October.

• S.A. Miller contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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