On the eve of the Independence Day holiday, 26 South Floridians became U.S. citizens in Everglades National Park.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is celebrating the birth of the country by welcoming nearly 7,500 new citizens over 100 naturalization ceremonies across the nation from July 1 to 5.
José Viñas, 19, of the Dominican Republic was all smiles after completing his naturalization -- and even danced a little.
“It did make me feel more special that tomorrow is Independence Day, all those soldiers that fought for our freedom,” Viñas said. “I’ve been here for 15 years ... You know, you have to work for it."
On Tuesday's ceremony at the Ernest F. Coe visitor center at the park, welcoming remarks were made by park superintendant Pedro Ramos. He previously worked for 15 years at Big Cypress National Reserve, and was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
His father was a first-generation U.S. citizen after the 1917 Jones-Shafroth Act that granted American citizenship to Puerto Ricans.
“It is very appropriate for them to become citizens in a national park,” Ramos said. “These places, all 420 National Park Service units in the United States, do tell the story of who we are as a nation; collectively they tell the story of who we are as a people.”
The new citizens originate from Spain, Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela and Cuba.
There were 15 people of Cuban origin at the ceremony.
“I feel like I’m closing a stage of learning,” said Roberto Milián, 64, from Homestead, who left Cuba for the States in 1995. "It has been a long way to one of the supreme achievements you can have in this country.”
Milián said he looks forward to being able to travel more freely and vote in the upcoming presidential elections.