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."

The Name "dagosan":

 It is a haiku tradition to take a pen-name, and I decided to adopt one back when I was putting a haiku a day of mine up on mine at my weblog f/k/a, because I felt sheepish about constantly putting my own name after each poem.   Not wanting to take myself too seriously, I decided to have fun by adding my initials "dag" to the Japanese honorific suffix "san." For me, the fact that the pseudonym contained the word "dago" made it playful and a little naughty, while pointing out my Italian heritage. 

When I started this weblog in 2005, it was natural to continue to use the sobriquet dagosan.  Eight years later, not one person has written to complain about that name.  More telling, in the 6 years that f/k/a was an active site, it had about a million visitors, mostly highly opinionated (and often politically-correct lawyers) and highly sensitive haiku poets, and no one ever left a comment or sent me an email to complain about the word "dagosan".   That's true, even though thousands of visitors came (and continue to come from search engine referrals) not for the lawyerly commentary or quality haiku, but to see my discussion of the words goombah (also spelled "goomba" or "gumbah") and agita.
something I said?
the cricket’s gone
Speaking of agita, I hope the squabble over the name Wandering Dago will not cause significant aggravation or stomach upset to people on either side of the issue.  If you are offended by the word, shouldn't it be enough for you to avoid or boycott the Food Truck?  This is America, bastion of free speech.   If you really like the name, Andrea and Brandon, don't be afraid to keep it.  It certainly has garnered a lot of attention here and in Europe, and will probably win a lot of business.

Goombah? If you decide to make a change because you truly do not want to offend anyone (a welcome goal in a world that is often unnecessarily mean-spirited), consider "Wandering Goombah" [in its traditional sense of a close, respected friend or protector] or "Wandering Paisan" (a fellow countryman).  "Goombah" has the advantage of denoting a level of respect that should satisfy your concerned elders, but also having an edgier/trendy connotation among the same younger people who were attracted to the "dago" name, thanks to cable tv mobster shows. (See A Goomba’s Guide to Life, by the “Sopranos” actor Steven Schirripa.]


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