Originally from Latacunga, Cotopaxi Province, in Ecuador, Maria Patricia Corrales Peñafiel came to Washington, DC for the first time in 1981 with the purpose of learning English so that she could continue her masters in psychology, which she had started at the Catholic University of Guayaquil.
After achieving the level of English needed to continue her studies in the U.S., Maria Patricia learned that Georgetown University, where she planned to continue her graduate studies, did not recognize a significant portion the courses she had taken back in Ecuador. But this did not stop her. “I was in love with the country and the Washington, DC area,” says Mary Patricia.
During her time in Washington, DC, Maria Patricia became aware of the many of the needs of the Hispanic community. That’s when Mary began to realize what she could do and accomplish in this community.
“The Hispanic community in D.C. had a strong need of legal assistance, translations and community leadership,” Maria Patricia recalls. “I realized I could grow personally with my own efforts and ideas.”
Maria Patricia began working as a cashier at an Ecuadorian-owned shoe shop. When her English improved even more, she began working as paralegal at law firm, where she had the opportunity to get even closer to the local Hispanic community. As part of her work Maria, helped Hispanic immigrants file their taxes and use them as evidence that they had been in the country for some years, which was useful for many Hispanic immigrants during the 1986 immigration amnesty.
Although Mary Patricia had been in the country legally, a technicality in the law allowed her to obtain residency under amnesty offered by President Reagan.
In 1987, Mary Patricia met Eduardo Pardomo, who led the Hispanic Festival at the time. During the next few years, Maria Patricia helped Mr. Pardomo organize the festival. “It served as a gateway for the city’s tourism and the economy,” says Maria Patricia. “The Hispanic community was very small, but the festival attracted people from New York, Pennsylvania and had a budget of nearly a million dollars.”
After taking time off to raise her children, Patricia resumed her professional life as the President of the Hispanic Association of Builders of Washington, DC. Since then, she offers logistical and political support to members of the association with the goal, to help small Hispanic companies become take part of large government contracts. Currently, the association is advocating for the construction of a new soccer stadium in Washington, D.C.—taking into consideration the many Hispanic small and medium sized companies to be co-participants of the project.
In 2011, Mary Patricia returned as president of the Hispanic Festival – now known as Fiesta DC. One of her achievements as president of the organization has been to bring the festival back to D.C. downtown, which takes place on Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues.
“Fiesta DC is one of the festivals that attracts the most people,” says Mary Patricia. “We currently have between 120,000 and 130,300 people coming to the event. We’ve had zero incidents, which helps us secure permits from the Department of Homeland Security to carry out this festival in the heart of the U.S. capital.”
Maria Patricia says that having this festival shows politicians that the Hispanic community is young and still flourishing and contributes culturally and economically to the society and it needs a voice.
In 2008, Maria Patricia also served as commissioner for Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement under the administration of President Barack Obama.