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Dante Benedetti | Jennifer Belcher | Chris Jenkins | Enter Sharing Stories

SpaceDante Bennetti
Dante Bennetti grew up in a tough Italian family, and loved it.

Dante Benedetti will turn 90 this month. He was born and raised in North Beach, the Italian neighborhood in San Francisco, and has lived there his entire life. He runs the restaurant his father opened in 1918, where together, they made wine, sausages and homemade prosciutto.

Explain the significance of community in your life.
I live by an old Italian proverb, "If you are proud of where you came from, you'll always know where you're going and you'll take pride in everything you do." It was tough growing up in an Italian family in North Beach, but because of that toughness, you really felt like you belonged to somebody. My mom was a tough little lady, and she always wore wooden shoes. I remember if she gave me an order that I didn't like, she'd kick off her shoe from across the room and it would hit me in the chest. I would say, "But I didn't say anything," and she would say, "That was for what you were thinking." In those days it was simple, if you didn't follow the rules, you had to pay the price, but because of that, you developed a strong sense of character. When you get in trouble, it falls back on your family, you have to watch your step so you don't offend your family or your neighborhood.

Is cultural identity important to you? Why?
Cultural identity is very important to me, I don't know where I'd be headed without it. I grew up in a strong community, to get respect, I had to respect others. In North Beach, we weren't brought up alone.

What roles do cultural traditions play in your life?
Whatever you do reflects on how you were brought up by people in your family and community. My Dad opened this restaurant in 1918, I followed his ways, and took it over when he died in 1951. I recently sold it to a friend who owns another Italian restaurant down the street. He's a good man, he's happy for me to still come here every day and keep myself busy. I also live in an apartment that he owns. We all take care of each other here. Even now, it's tradition that my family always gets together for the holidays. My younger daughter always has Easter, my older daughter always has Thanksgiving, and my brother has us all over for Christmas every year -- all 50 of us.

Is keeping ancient ways alive important to you? Why?
If I had to rate its importance, it would be number one. Ancient ways are what give you pride. One of the most important things I've learned, looking back, is not to be an individual. You are part of many. The emotional attitude you develop within a large family and community teaches you how to act in society. I tried to teach my kids that, and they are now teaching their kids.