PACOIMA — Betty Cooper's heart beats for this town.
At 73 and "not in a rocking chair yet," Cooper is one of those civic activists who has boundless energy to share with her neighbors.
On Saturday, she smacked her hands and bobbed her head to the sounds of unity at a performance organized to encourage Pacoima's different ethnic groups, mostly Latino, black and Asian, to work together on improving their northeast Valley community.
"I love Pacoima," Cooper said. "It may be true that every now and then we have problems, mostly because of language differences, but the main thing is love, and there's a lot of that here."
Cooper was among the 100 Pacoima residents who spent Saturday afternoon at Broadous Elementary School watching "A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens," a multicultural performance arranged by the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and drama troupe Great Leap.
The commission was drawn to Pacoima because of past ethnic tensions and recent gang shootings. The performance, a mix of theater, dance and song, poked fun at racial stereotypes and inspired the audience to sing along and boogie together.
"There's definitely a black-Latino fault line in Pacoima that needs to bridged,' said Joe Hicks, the executive director of the Human Relations Commission. "And we figured the best way to bring people together was to provide two things: food and entertainment."
The entertainment was fun.
One performer, Chic Street Man, taught the audience snippets of Spanish and Swahili, while strumming his guitar. Paulina Sahagun made everyone laugh by acting so exasperated over tortilla preservatives that she pretended to pull her hair out. And Louise Mita Jung, who was raised in a strict Asian household, surprised the audience by showing she could moonwalk.
The food was good, too, and it helped people bond.
After the show, neighbors mingled as they feasted on sandwiches, pans of flan and chocolate cookies. One of the goals of Saturday's event was to get people to enlist in community-building organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, and neighborhood cleanup groups. Around the food table, dozens of signatures and phone numbers were collected.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who came for part of the performance, said it's going to take more than just an afternoon of good will to alleviate the tensions that sometimes flare up in a diverse community like Pacoima.
"If events like this do nothing else," Yaroslavksy said, "they create a new fact--a new knowledge of another person's culture. And that knowledge can help dissipate ignorance and the bigotry it fuels."