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COMMUNITY : Columbus Quincentennial Tiptoes to the Finale


Unlike the hoopla that accompanied the nation's celebration of the bicentennial 16 years ago, the 500th anniversary year of Columbus' first trans-Atlantic voyage has sailed almost quietly.

The few pro and counter quincentennial events planned in Los Angeles seem modest compared to the fanfare and controversy anticipated only a year ago. Much of the protesters' punch was weakened when organizers began calling the events a celebration of "the encounter of two worlds," instead of the "discovery of America."

Some opposition arose when a Columbus descendant was named grand marshal of the Rose Parade. Others recently protested the release of two movies on Columbus.

The much anticipated arrival of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria replicas to the West Coast was doomed when Spain '92, funder of the worldwide caravels tour, hit rough financial waters, according to Chris Vigueria, assistant director of the County of Los Angeles Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Committee. "The cancellation was tragic news," she said.

Transporting the tiny ships, built for $15 million, from Boston could have cost as much as $800,000, Vigueria said. Compounded with expenses for other events surrounding the fleet's arrival, neither cash-strapped Los Angeles nor San Francisco was willing to finance a voyage trailed by controversy.

Instead, the county will support a Columbus Day festival Sunday, Oct. 11, at the Civic Center mall. The annual event, sponsored by the Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California, will include displays, food and entertainment.

Hector Alejandro, of the Hispanic Quincentennial Committee of Los Angeles, believes more should have been done to "involve all communities" in the event.

Alejandro disagrees that 1992 has passed as a missed opportunity. He pointed to art exhibits and community-level discussions. "Money has also been scarce," he said, "what with the L.A. riots, that seemed more of a priority for artists and nonprofit organizations to address."

Gema Sandoval, Plaza de La Raza executive director, said, "The year got us thinking (what it means) to be the children of an encounter that happened 500 years ago. It had nothing to do with celebration or protest, but with reinterpreting reality and making changes."

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, meanwhile, raised eyebrows by accepting $250,000 and a bust of Columbus from an area Italian-American foundation. The prime mission of the museum, which will reopen Oct. 15 after a $12 million expansion, is to collect, preserve and interpret the art and culture of indigenous people of the Americas. A Bowers official said it has not altered its mission and reiterated that the museum is "interested in bringing people of all cultures together."

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