TAMPA — When Julio Silva came to the United States from his native Peru nine years ago, he was a worker on a cruise ship. Tampa is where he first set foot on American soil.
On Wednesday, Silva, 32, who now lives with his U.S.-born wife and daughters in Port Charlotte, returned to Tampa to take his Oath of Allegiance with 24 other immigrants from across the globe.
New citizens and their family members, who snapped photos with their phones during the hourlong ceremony, packed the domed auditorium at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa.
Nationwide, more than 100 swearing-ins took place this week during the run-up to the July Fourth holiday. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services expects 9,000 people to become new citizens this week.
“Today is the day you should always remember that you participated in the history of this great nation,” Jerry Huffman, an official with the Tampa Citizenship and Immigration Services office, told the crowd.
In Tampa, those who became new Americans on Wednesday hail from 17 countries, from Colombia to Belarus to Vietnam.
In the group were Julius and Mae Imperial, who came with their three children from the Philippines seven years ago. The children — two teen daughters and a 12-year-old son — qualified for citizenship under their parents’ naturalized status.
The family lives in Hudson, in northwest Pasco County. Julius, 40, works as an intensive-care nurse at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel. His new status as a citizen will give him the chance to seek a job with the Veterans Health Administration, he said.
The new citizens showed their stuff when a glitch in the computer system created an awkward delay before the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As everyone stood for several long moments with their hands over their hearts and no music playing, a few in the crowd began a capella: “Oh, say can you see...”
A few seconds later, the glitch was fixed and the recorded orchestra kicked in.
Ruth Dorochoff, director of the Tampa office, which covers west-central Florida, led the oath in which the new citizens promised to give up their loyalty to “any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty” and swore to serve their new country when called.
She told the group Wednesday would be her last Independence Day ceremony before she retires this year.
“Making citizens is an awesome part of my job,” she said, choking up a bit. “I enjoy every minute of it.”
For Silva and his family, the ceremony ended years of stress and uncertainty.
After meeting and marrying his wife, Diana, in 2005, Silva left her with two daughters a few years later and returned to Peru to officially start his path to citizenship.
They lived apart for two years.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Diana Silva said after Wednesday’s ceremony.
Julio Silva, who works in the tech sector, also paused to reflect on his new status.
“It feels great,” he said. “It got me to tears.”