- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

A ceremony commemorating Columbus Day in the District yesterday celebrated the Italian sea captain’s discovery of the New World, but was cautious of praising his character and conquest.

“We’re in an era of history revisionism, and it’s kind of appalling when we see how some people are treating American history,” said David R. Curfman, president of the National Columbus Celebration Association, which co-sponsored the 94th annual event. “We are here to celebrate not just what he did, but to look at what happened.”

The celebration, held in front of the statue of Christopher Columbus at Union Station, marked the 513th anniversary of Columbus’ journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Spain funded Columbus’ westward expedition to the East Indies, but the explorer instead made landfall in the Caribbean Sea Oct. 12, 1492.

Yesterday’s event featured music by the U.S. Marine Band and posting of the colors by the U.S. Honor Guard and local members of the Knights of Columbus.

A crowd of about 250 onlookers listened as foreign diplomats from Italy, Spain and the Bahamas — where Columbus first came ashore in the Americas — extolled the explorer’s legacy and the path he forged for future immigrants to come to America.

“Columbus [was] a man of courage and passion … he remains a powerful symbol of audacity and perseverance,” said Italian First Consular Alberto Gallucio. “[His] journey to the New World was, in a sense, their journey to this New World.”

While traditional historians typically view Columbus’ journey as opening up inroads between the Old and New Worlds, revisionists often say his voyage represents forced European colonization and the brutal treatment of American Indians.

Three years ago, protesters dumped red paint on the Columbus statue, which was dedicated in 1912. Protesters were absent from the ceremony yesterday, but event participants were mindful of the controversy over Columbus.

“No amount of interpreting can wipe away [Columbus’] cruelties, and none can erase his achievements,” said Irtefa Anwara Bibte-Farid, a 10th-grader from Charlottesville as she read from her essay “Christopher Columbus — Imperfect Hero.” Irtefa’s essay won first prize in an event-related contest.

“He does not deserve to be canonized, but neither does he deserve to be condemned,” Irtefa said.

Yesterday afternoon, the National Archives hosted a Columbus Day family program called “Coming to America,” which focused on the immigration inroads that Columbus’ voyage created.

Visitors to the 14 exhibits and activities learned how to trace their genealogies, pretend to apply for naturalization or a land grant, and pinpoint on a map where their ancestors originated from and emigrated to in the United States.

“What we tried to do is go with the theme of discovery,” said Katie Wilmes, family programs coordinator for the Archives. “It’s to realize that we all come from somewhere.”

Jenna Rieden, a fifth-grader from Oak Hill Elementary School in Herndon, said she came to the exhibits with her father, John, to recognize the holiday.

“Columbus Day is an important holiday if you do active things like this,” said Jenna, 10. “But if you brush over it, no one’s gonna know what happened.”

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

In 1937, President Roosevelt proclaimed Oct. 12 “Columbus Day.” In 1971, President Nixon declared Columbus Day, now observed on the second Monday in October, as an official federal holiday.

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