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New U.S. citizens explain what it means to be American

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Fourth of July festivities roll out across the nation this week. Millions will celebrate America's 248th birthday with fireworks, barbecues and parades.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For newly minted citizens, the celebration holds special meaning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Congratulations, everyone. You are now U.S. citizens.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTÍNEZ: At a ceremony here in Los Angeles, we meet Bernadette Medina (ph). Medina is from Belize, and, like all candidates for citizenship, faced tests and interviews before becoming eligible to take the oath.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS")

BERNADETTE MEDINA: And I passed. I'm so happy. Thank you, God.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS")

MEDINA: I have been in this country 47 years this year. My four beautiful daughters were born right here in Los Angeles, and it's just been a journey. At first, I wasn't worrying about it, but I know times have changed, so I had to do it. It's been a long journey. It's been a long journey, and it's the proudest moment right now for me. It's wonderful.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS")

MEDINA: What brought me here was I was married back then in Belize, and then my husband's father passed away over here in Los Angeles, so we came for the funeral, and I said, I don't want to go back. I loved being here in the United States. It was just different. It was just different. And then I started my family, and even more, so I said, this is it. This is it for us. I'm not going back.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS")

MEDINA: Oh, my God. It's so beautiful, and I get to vote for the first time in this year's election - yes. Yes (laughter).

MARTIN: Medina is one of hundreds of thousands who are sworn in every year. Eduardo Bautista (ph) is from Mexico. He took the oath at the same ceremony.

EDUARDO BAUTISTA: I feel great. This has been a long journey for me. My family is feeling great, too, because we've been here in this country for many years. And finally, it's a dream come true now.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS")

BAUTISTA: I've been here 35 years. I came here when I was 19 years old, and it was a long journey for me to get my residence first because one of my brothers made the application for me, and I had to wait over 20 years on that application. But it finally came, and I got a residency a little bit over five years. I'm just becoming a citizenship. That's why I'm really happy because it's been a long journey for me and my family especially.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS")

BAUTISTA: It's a dream come true because I was living here before without any status, and it's just really hard, and it's a pain. I'm just looking to, right now, enjoy the life and try to be happier. This is my home because I've been here most of my life, living here in this country. And I just want to be living here and following the laws, and I love this country.

MARTÍNEZ: As we mark Independence Day this week, we'll be profiling more of these new citizens and asking, what does it mean to be American?

(SOUNDBITE OF PIETER SAVENBERG'S "NEW BEGINNINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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