John Montesanto is a man on a mission. He wants to stamp out the use of a term that he says has been flying around the area lately, and he thinks now, since the Italian Festival takes place in downtown Reno this weekend, is the time to do it. The word, he says, is offensive to Italian Americans.
The word is dago.
“I was raised in an old Italian family,” he said. “There were certain terms that you didn’t use, such as ‘dago’ and ‘wop’ and so forth. I know that certain ethnic groups use these types of terms among themselves, but they are still racial slurs and derogatory.”
Montesanto said the word is never a term of endearment, and he has advice for people who think it is.
“They should contact the Sons of Italy in Washington, D.C., and they will be told it is a term that is abhorred by millions of Italians,” he said. “I’ve received a letter from the Sons of Italy stating exactly that.”
Montesanto said the straw that broke the camel’s back is a plane that races in the National Championship Air Races in Reno. It’s called Dago Red, and if it hadn’t cut a pylon, it would have been the 2004 Unlimited Gold Race Winner—again, since it has placed first in the category for the last five years the race has been flown.
“For a plane to be called Dago Red and have its name printed in headlines is a slap in the face to Italians,” Montesanto said. “It’s equivalent to calling a black person the n-word. Everyone I grew up with became very incensed if anyone used that term.”
He had been previously informed that the plane had been named after its color of paint.
Montesanto sent an e-mail regarding the slur to Reno Air Race officials on Sept. 15, the day before the air races began. Mike Houghton, president of the Reno Air Race Association, replied on Sept. 30.
“We do not get involved in issues over the names of aircraft,” Houghton wrote. “It is an individual owner and team issue. I have forwarded your e-mail to the current owner of the aircraft and to the former owner who named it. ‘As an Italian American,’ [former owner] Mr. Tiger Destefani saw ‘no problem with the name.’”
At press time, representatives of Dago Red had not responded to RN&R e-mails.