They came from more than two dozen nations around the world. Following a Thursday morning ceremony at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, 53 people are now officially citizens of the United States of America.
The nation's newest citizens took their oath aboard the USS Little Rock in a ceremony led by Federal Judge Richard Arcara, who suggested it was a fitting environment for the event. He noted that on the ship, many people fought for the freedoms that they, as new U.S. citizens, will get to enjoy.
"You are now part of what I believe is the greatest country in the history of mankind," Arcara said.
Those taking part in the ceremony came from nations from all over the globe: Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Brazil, Burma, Canada, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kosovo, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Somalia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and Vietnam.
One of those who became a U.S. citizen was Dolores Ruiz, who was born in Ecuador. While working on a U.S. military base in her native land, Ruiz was approached by a serviceman who wanted to date her. Years later, he was arranging to bring her to the United States. They now have a son.
"I feel like I have more, how you say, doors open for me," Ruiz said. "I just feel my family feels so proud of me for doing what I did."
While some like Ruiz were motivated by relationships and family, others came to the U.S. to seek citizenship after years of living amidst political or ethnic strife. Bhim Dhungana, a native of Bhutan, fled his homeland with his family for Nepal, where he stayed for many years before getting his chance to come to America.
"For 18 years, we lived in a refugee camp," said Dhungana, who now works as a case manager for Journey's End Refugee Services in Buffalo. "I finally got a chance to come to the U.S. Now, today I am a U.S. citizen. I am very happy and proud about it."
Thursday's ceremony is one of many, nationwide, that will welcome new citizens in honor of Independence Day. Judge Arcara reminded those in attendance of the responsibilities of citizenship and encouraged those who took the oath to get involved in local government.
"I'm not worried about you voting, or serving on juries or taking an active role in the community, because you have already taken that most important first step when you took the oath of allegiance a few moments ago," Arcara said.