Little Chelsea has a large Hispanic community. According to various estimates , they make up one-fourth to one-third of the city's population. Alex Rodriguez, commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, says 57 percent Hispanics in Chelsea live below the poverty level.
Fernando Epalza, who has lived in Chelsea for 12 years, says it has been a ''very racist city.'' He points out that there is only one Hispanic policeman and one fireman employed by the city.
Mr. Epalza says Hispanics have to be incorporated into the mainstream at all city levels. ''There is no incentive for (Hispanic) people to better themselves'' in Chelsea, he asserts, noting that in Boston there are many organizations that help Hispanics.
A Hispanic community center could be a big help here, Epalza says. Such a center could make a significant contribution to the Hispanic community by offering programs in English, seminars on interviewing for jobs, and courses to familiarize Hispanics with American life styles.
He charges that city officials ''never open the doors for us to participate. When they do, it's only because they're pushed.''
In 1978, Epalza filed a class-action suit against the city of Chelsea and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, claiming discrimination in housing and employment. He lost the employment suit, but won the housing part, which is being appealed by the city.
Epalza says he'd like to see a negotiated settlement to the suit which would include a commitment to a Hispanic community center.
''We don't want to be at odds with the city,'' he says, ''but we do need the means to get ahead.''