Tournament of Roses Beset by Thorns : Controversy: The choice of a descendant of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal has infuriated American Indians and sparked a flurry of charges that organizers are insensitive and elitist.


Ever since the Rose Parade became America’s favorite family entertainment for New Year’s Day, the Pasadena extravaganza has attracted its share of carps and quibbles.

But this year, you need a score card to keep track of all the verbal torpedoes--from ethnic groups, feminists and concerned individuals--that have sailed toward the Tournament of Roses headquarters on Orange Grove Boulevard.

Even for an institution that’s used to being a lightning rod for social criticism, the rhetoric has been fast and furious, dazed tournament officials say.

More than two months before the first marchers are scheduled to step off down Colorado Boulevard, the 103rd Rose Parade and its organizers have been accused of insensitivity, sexism and elitism.


Pasadena Vice Mayor Rick Cole, for one, has blasted “the extreme myopia of an organization totally controlled by aging white men” that he says led to the selection of a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal--a move that has infuriated American Indian groups.

At the same time, the City Council is considering refusing to hire the beleaguered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide parade security because of allegations of brutality and discrimination against women deputies.

Amid reports that American Indian groups and tournament officials are fashioning a compromise to provide a prominent Indian presence in the parade, the city’s Human Relations Commission has scheduled a hearing Monday on parade-related issues.

The commission, which advises the Pasadena City Council on issues relating to discrimination, will provide a forum primarily for those who contend that the choice of Spanish aristocrat Cristobal Colon as grand marshal was insensitive to Indians.


“We don’t like to come down on somebody’s parade, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of our people are dead, based on the era that man (Columbus) brought,” said Helen Anderson, chairwoman of the statewide Alliance of Native Americans, echoing a widespread view that Columbus’ discovery marked the beginnings of a campaign of genocide against the Indians.

The parade’s theme, honoring the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World, is “Voyages of Discovery.” The grand marshal serves as goodwill ambassador for the event, riding near the front of the parade in an open car.

Tournament officials, some of whom have vivid memories of squads of police guarding the parade against Vietnam War protesters in 1972, confirmed that they have held discussions with American Indian groups. “We’ll talk with anyone who wants to talk to us,” said assistant executive director William Flinn, adding that he could not reveal what had been discussed.

But sources close to the discussions say that the tournament has offered to let an American Indian leader--possibly Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.), the only American Indian in Congress--ride in an open car somewhere behind the grand marshal. American Indian representatives have demanded that Colon and an American Indian ride together.

“There should be a Native American as a sort of great-great-grand marshal,” said Richard Blackbear Angulo, a Chumash tribal leader.

Spanish aristocrat Cristobal Colon--Duke of Veragua, Duke of la Vega, man at the center of the storm--is reportedly chagrined by the whole affair and has threatened to become a no-show unless tournament officials meet Indian demands.

An affable former military pilot who gamely held a football at the announcement ceremonies last month, Colon likes the idea of riding with a prominent American Indian, said Pedro de Mesones, president of the Washington-based Foundation for the Advancement of Hispanic Americans, who has served as the duke’s spokesman in the United States.

“He’d be very, very pleased to ride along with a Native American representative,” de Mesones said.


Historically, there have been plenty of sour notes amid the jazzy cadences of the Rose Parade. Two years ago, for example, AIDS activists briefly blocked the parade route and spectators hissed and booed as Zsa Zsa Gabor, fresh from her cop-slapping trial, paraded past on horseback.

There have been criticisms of grand marshals as being too conservative in the 1960s and 1970s (U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen, Bob Hope, the Rev. Billy Graham and John Wayne) and being too liberal in the 1980s (Gregory Peck, who opposed Robert H. Bork’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court).

Shirley Temple Black revealed shortly after she was selected in 1989 that she was allergic to roses. U.S. Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) was impugned with involvement in the savings and loan scandal the day after he was selected in 1989. A Senate investigation later exonerated Glenn.

Former President Gerald R. Ford in 1978 was attacked for having pardoned his predecessor, Richard M. Nixon (himself a grand marshal twice). Frank Sinatra was criticized in 1980 for alleged organized crime ties.

“It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time,” Flinn said of the Columbus flap.

But the intensity and quantity of criticisms are greater this year than any other, tournament officials say. The brickbats started flying last month, after the tournament presented its latest grand marshal.

In short order, there was what some perceived as a chain reaction:

- Cole issued his statement, saying that Colon was “a symbol of greed, slavery, rape and genocide.”


- American Indians, threatening demonstrations during the parade, demanded equal billing with Colon. “They say it’s entertainment,” Anderson said, “but we’re saying we’re not being entertained.”

Prominent blacks and Latinos supported Cole’s contention that the largely white, male leadership of the tournament is “out of touch” with the city’s broader community, in which minority groups constitute 55% of the population. “The tournament has great power within the city,” said Elbie Hickambottom, president of the Pasadena School Board. “They throw their weight around and get what they want.”

- The Los Angeles County Commission for Women criticized the tournament for the way an all-male committee selected the Rose Parade queen and royal court princesses. “It smacks of that scene on TV, with 14 middle-aged white men passing judgment on Anita Hill,” said Commissioner Sandra Klasky.

- The Pasadena City Council threatened to go elsewhere than the Sheriff’s Department for 735 officers to bolster the Pasadena Police Department during the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, because of a host of charges, including a federal court finding that the Sheriff’s Department discriminates against its own women deputies. City staff members are considering various alternatives, including a proposal to put city police on double and triple shifts.

Tournament officials respond evenly to all of this, with often a trace of hurt feelings.

“There was never any desire to slight anyone,” said Flinn. “That’s never been our intention and it never will be. It’s not that kind of an organization.”

White men continue to hold the leadership positions because they have seniority in the organization, Flinn said. But the membership is open to anyone regardless of race or gender, he added.

“I think if people are going to be critical,” added Thomson, “perhaps they ought to join the organization and change it from within. That’s a definite possibility.”

Cole concedes that the response to his statement has not been all positive. “I’ve taken some heat, but mostly from people who don’t like me anyway,” he said.

“But I think the debate has been a positive one,” Cole added. “On the one hand, it has allowed the country to confront its real history. On the other hand, it may lead to the tournament becoming stronger by addressing its glaring weaknesses.”

Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen contributed to this story.