The Wandering Dago food truck (Photo: Facebook)

Saratoga Springs: A food truck called “The Wandering Dago” was ordered off the premises here at Saratoga race track in upstate New York because of its insulting name to Italian Americans.

Problem was the two owners were of Italian origin themselves and had no problem whatever with the name.
Most of the response we've gotten has been extremely supportive," said Andrea Loguidice, who co-owns the Schenectady-based Wandering Dago.

The Wandering Dago saga made headlines in the New York Times, Associated Press even London’s Daily Mail.

Loguidice says Dago originated from Italian workers in the old days wanting to be paid “as the day  goes.”

The Oxford dictionary described it as originating from Diego, a common Spanish name and used in a derogatory fashion against Italians, and Spanish, perhaps their equivalent of using ‘Mick” to describe Irish.

The Sons of Italy made the original complaint but Loguidice said they backed off when she told them the name was a sly tribute to her Italian ancestral roots and she meant no offense.

It’s a head scratcher. Is the term “Paddywagon” racist as an AOH official recently alleged in a letter to the mayor of Tampa Bay after a pub opened under that name? Most of our readers thought not

Do Polish people get deeply upset about the term “polack” or has that died away from its original meaning as an ethnic slur? I don’t know.

We know that many African Americans, especially hip hop performers use the N word to describe fellow blacks but there is no question that it remains a deeply offensive term used outside that context.

Which is where I think this argument leads. “Dago” used by an Italian or “Mick” used by well a Mick, or “polack” used by a Pole is far less offensive than when someone outside the tribe uses them.

I have used the term “Mick Clique” to describe the group of Irish American writers such as Jimmy Breslin, Jim Dwyer, Pete Hamill, Mike McAlary who dominated tabloid writing in the 80s and 90s . It was a term I heard some of those writers use proudly.

Within the tribe terms like “narrowbacks” for Irish Americans and “donkeys” for Irish born are widely used and tolerated.

So the rule of thumb could be that used by the tribe member itself the term “dago” can hardly be described a s racist. The problem is plastering it on the side of a food van means there is a unique opportunity for other Italian Americans who feel differently to be slighted.

In the end the Wandering  Dago van was sent off wandering again and will not be seen anytime soon at Saratoga race course. But the debate about whether  it was truly insulting or just tasteless will continue.

Meanwhile, in classic American style the Italian owners intend to sue the racetrack-- for defamation no doubt.