Jul 4, 2013 2:59 PM by Stacey Plaisance, Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS | Holding miniature American flags and dressed in various shades of red, white and blue, more than 50 of the country's newest citizens took the Oath of Allegiance in New Orleans on Independence Day.
Ana Nedreberg, a native of Managua, Nicaragua, wiped tears from her eyes as she waved her flag and hugged her husband and the couple's 2-year-old daughter, wearing a blue-and-white polka dot dress and red and white ribbon in her hair.
"This is my country now," Nedreberg said, choked with emotion. "I found my husband here, friends here, a loving community here. I'm so proud to say that this is my country now."
Nedreberg is one of more than 7,800 candidates becoming citizens at roughly 100 special ceremonies across the country and overseas through Friday. The citizenship candidates in New Orleans hailed from about two dozen countries, including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Hungary, Iran, Iraq and Kosovo.
The eldest in the group was 94-year-old Kha Nguyen, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam to be with her only child, 73-year-old daughter Anh Dao.
"I would like to take care of her the rest of her life," Dao said. "I am grateful she is able to be here and be a citizen."
The naturalization ceremony in New Orleans was held at the National World War II Museum. It included a performance of the national anthem, and the citizens recited the Pledge of Allegiance and waved flags to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." After a video message from President Barack Obama, who said "I'm proud to welcome you," the event was capped with a reception of pastries topped with red, white and blue icing.
"It's a very emotional experience," said Emanuel Ohlsen of New Orleans, who snapped pictures of his fiancÃ©e, Savina Sopata, as she raised her hand and recited her oath. Sopata, from a village in Poland near Krakow, moved to New York and eventually New Orleans for work, where she met Ohlsen.
Ohlsen said this isn't his first time he's witnessed a woman he loves become a U.S. citizen.
"I was born here, but my mother is from Colombia," he said. "I was just a little boy, but I remember when she became a U.S. citizen. I remember the applause, the flag and my mom being happy. It's a very special experience, and it's very emotional to watch the person you love go through this process."
The ceremony was one of several being hosted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services across the country this Fourth of July. Similar ceremonies were also to be held in Washington, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, and Hawaii; aboard the USS Constitution in Boston; at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan; and elsewhere.
"What a great way to get the Fourth of July celebration started," said Stanley Crockett, the field office director for the USCIS in New Orleans. "In spite of all the challenges we face in this country, and there are many, America is indeed still the greatest country in the world."
Crockett, who delivered the keynote address, said the greatest resource any country can have is its people.
"America is like a good Louisiana gumbo," he said. "Today, the flavor of this country's gumbo was changed just a little bit and made just a little bit better."