MALDEN — One by one, the candidates eligible for citizenship stood up proudly as their birth countries were named.
Many of the 97 people from 34 countries waved US flags as they pledged the Oath of Allegiance and became American citizens. They now live in Cambridge, Everett, Lynn Malden, Medford, Melrose, Newton, Salem, Somerville, and Revere.
Medford resident Hassan Mansaray, 56, smiled brightly as he thought about how long his journey to citizenship had been.
“In this country, if you work hard enough, you can reach your dreams,” he said.
Mansaray left Liberia 23 years ago as security deteriorated in his African homeland. He was able to study education at Boston University through a fellowship program, leading to a doctorate in 1997.
For more than a year after his arrival from Africa, Mansaray lost all communication with his wife and two children. Eventually, he was able to find them and bring them to the United States. Since then, Mansaray and his wife, Precious, have had three more children. He is currently an eighth-grade English teacher at the Clarence R. Edwards Middle School in Charlestown.
Precious Mansaray, 48, became a citizen in September. Their son Michael, 29, is a legal resident about to start the naturalization process. Daughter Gifty, 24, who also was born in Liberia, has passed the citizenship test and is waiting to attend a ceremony.
The couple’s three younger children, Al-Hassan, 21; Lisa 15; and Arienna, 12, are US citizens by birth.
“The US is the envy of the world. It’s good to feel American,” said Hassan Mansaray. “Of course you see the struggles of people in the United States, but those are not comparable to those in Liberia. In my country our opportunities [are] limited.
“My life has come full circle in the US. You always hear that you’re part of the US, but there’s that cloud over your head that you’re not a citizen. Now I have all the rights. I can vote for whom to represent me.”
The naturalization ceremony, which took place last Thursday, was led by Judge Frank J. Bailey. Mayor Gary Christenson represented the city of Malden, one of the most diverse cities in the state. CEO Diane Portnoy spoke on behalf of the Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, which hosted the event.
It was the third naturalization ceremony in three years at the John and Christina Markey Malden Senior Community Center in downtown Malden. More than 40 new citizens registered to vote after the ceremony. To be eligible for naturalization, a candidate must be at least 18 years of age; be a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least five years; and have knowledge of US government and history. Candidates also are asked to take the Oath of Allegiance and support the US Constitution.
While all children born in the United States are citizens, minors born in foreign countries automatically derive citizenship at the time of their parent’s naturalization, said Paula Grenier, public affairs officer for the Boston office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Children born outside the US who are at least 18 at the time their parent gains citizenship must file their own application for naturalization.
Each year, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services accepts 680,000 new citizens. Last year, 74 percent of all naturalizing residents resided within 10 states, one of which was Massachusetts.
“Our diversity is our greatest strength,” Christenson said during the ceremony.
Another grateful new citizen was Gimena Delfilpo, 35, from Argentina. “Here you have the opportunity to grow economically and socially,” she said in Spanish.
Delfilpo, who lives in Everett, is looking forward to raising her two boys, Luca, 2, and Leonardo, 2 months, in the area. She hopes that while they will be Americans, they will follow Argentinean traditions.
Delfilpo became a citizen after living in the United States for 17 years. She expressed excitement over being able to vote. “I’ll give Latinos a voice.”