Friday, July 26, 2013

a Wandering Dago by any other name

she asks if "dago"
is in the dictionary -
our first Scrabble scrap

Dagosan has been trying to be as Buddha-like and above the fray as possible lately, and I've been taking a long sabbatical from seriously writing haiku.  But, a squabble right here in Schenectady over use of the word "dago" in the name of a business has inspired me to opine rather than recline this afternoon, and to even gin up a new haiku with photo accompaniment (see above). 

Andrea Luguidice and Brandon Snooks are co-owners of the Schenectady-based Wandering Dago Food Truck.  Their diverse menu -- "with options ranging from pulled pork sandwiches, flatbread pizza and made-to-order chopped salads" -- has won many fans and much praise.  Nevertheless, their Food Truck was evicted from the Saratoga Race Track last week, because a handful of people told the track food service management that the word "dago" offended them.  As Steve Barnes of the Times Union wrote in his restaurant weblog Table Hopping:
News of The Wandering Dago food truck being banned from the Saratoga Race Course because of complaints that its name is offensive went viral over the past four days. In addition to Table Hopping, stories were written by the New York Times, the New York Daily News, a widely carried version by the Associated Press and even London’s Daily Mail.
Although Luguidice and Snooks, who are both of Italian descent, are reluctant to change their name, they have put a (very unscientific) poll up at their Facebook page, asking "Should the Wandering Dago change their name?" [update: 61% of the 373 participants told Wandering Dago not to change its name.  The owners said they will take the poll into consideration in making their decision. Click to see poll results.]
Here to Stay
  follow-up (Aug. 5, 2013): Andrea and Brandon wrote me today to say they have no plans at the present time to change the name of the business. For one thing, they estimate the cost of changing the decal artwork on their bus, along with other signage and printed material, to be $9,000.  That's a big expense for a new and truly "small" business.  Having just one truck, they really can't even take advantage of all the free publicity. I wish them luck and hope their detractors will say "And, proud of it", when they hear or see the word "dago".
To support them and follow their wandering and adventures, go to the Wandering Dago Facebook and Twitter pages.
The word "dago" is offensive to more than a few people (see quotes in the NYT) -- mostly older folks of Italian descent, I believe.  Nonetheless, when the word is not used in anger or to demean someone, I think taking offense does little to enhance or protect the Italian culture and people.  It seems to me that the best way to take the power and sting from ethnic slurs is to either ignore them or co-opt them, as Luguidice and Snooks have done, as a point of ethnic pride.   Of course, I have a stake in this fight, too.

  • big-a up-a-date (January 4, 2018): Wandering Dago's owners sued New York State a few years ago, after the Cuomo Administration refused to allow WD's food truck at the Empire State Plaza. See "Wandering Dago prevails in federal court: Food truck was barred from Empire State Plaza by state (Albany Times Union, by Casey Seiler, Jan. 3, 2018). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit concluded: "It is undisputed that defendants denied WD's applications solely because of its ethnic‐slur branding," and declared the state's action to be unconstitutional "viewpoint discrimination."

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