Thursday, July 2, 2009 | 4:15 p.m.
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Feelings of patriotism ran high today at Las Vegas City Hall as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services welcomed 102 new U.S. citizens during a ceremony in the council chambers.
The fourth annual swearing-in ceremony is part of the city's "Celebrate America" initiative. Mayor Oscar Goodman, USCIS District Director John Kramar and Councilman Stavros Anthony were in attendance with U.S. District Court Judge Lloyd George presiding.
Before the ceremony officially began, representatives for Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and U.S. Reps. Dina Titus and U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (both D-Nev.) read letters of congratulations.
In all, the new citizens represented 35 countries, from Australia to Vietnam. The largest group hailed from the Philippines.
An oath of allegiance sounded throughout the chambers as all 102 stood to recite it. Afterward, they waved their small American flags in the air, their smiles lit up by the camera flashes of friends and family.
Among the speakers were new citizens Nileshini Lata Gopal, of Fiji, who came to the U.S. in 2006, and Mary Anne Santo Hizon, from the Philippines.
"Most of you may have had a long and difficult journey to get here," Gopal said. "And today is a day of triumph and the beginning of a new chapter in our personal journey and history.
“By becoming citizens of the United States of America, we are changing not only our lives, but also the lives of our upcoming generations."
She expressed wonder at the country's diverse citizens who are, she said, so different yet strive for the same American dream.
She added: "I still get intrigued to see a Hispanic cook making an authentic Indian curry in an Indian restaurant," she said. "And being connected to a call center somewhere in India when you call to activate a local credit card."
When Goodman spoke, he emphasized the importance of diversity, citing the phrase: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
"Because we have a fabric of many different threads, many different colors, many different textures that bind together to make us into something very, very special," he said.
He said his family came to the U.S. from Europe not knowing the language or anyone who lived in the country.
"Can you imagine coming from a family that two generations ago didn't speak any English and then becoming mayor of the greatest city in the world? And the happiest mayor in the universe?" he said. "It can only happen in the United States of America."
New citizen Garry Campano arrived in the U.S. in 2005 from the Philippines and sat quietly in the back of the chambers before the ceremony began.
"I want to be a part of this great country," he said. "(There are) a lot of good opportunities here."
As he walked across the front of the room to shake hands with the mayor and other officials, he beamed.
Similarly, Adrian san Roman, who just received his certificate of citizenship, was speechless. He is originally from Cuba and came to the United States about five years ago.
"I cannot find words to describe how I feel," he said, smiling. "You know, it's something I've been reaching for for a long time. I did it, I did it. And I'm really, really happy about it."
John Vore, of the Order of the Elks, spoke on the honor of becoming an American and the responsibilities and morals that come along with it. The key to those beliefs, he said, is the pride citizens have for the symbol of the United States -- the flag.
"And now it's your flag," he told them. "Wave it proudly."