TAMPA — Surrounded by smiling faces and clicking cameras, Vira Dorosh quietly dabbed her eyes with a tissue.
"You're gaining and you're losing at the same time," said the 24-year-old originally from Ukraine. "I'm excited. I'm a little anxious."
Dorosh and 399 others from nearly 80 countries gained the right to call the United States home as they took a citizenship oath at the Tampa Convention Center on Wednesday morning.
"It's a big day today," said Irina Chronos, 58, who came from Latvia in 1996 and lives with her Chicago-born husband in Cape Coral. "To belong to America, this is a big deal."
For most, the event marked the culmination of a journey that took years.
Fourteen, to be exact, for 47-year-old Cenia Quevedo, who hails from Colombia and works as an occupational therapist in Cape Coral. She remembers having to secure myriad documents, including her first utility bills and tax forms.
"It's like I just accomplished a big step to my future," a relieved Quevedo said, her citizenship certificate in hand. "It's security. It's happiness."
For others, the ceremony was simply a formality.
"I'm ready to get it over with," said Bethy Senat, 21, of Fort Myers, as she waited in line to pick up a packet of information for new citizens. A native of Haiti, Senat has lived in the United States since she was 5.
"I still feel the same," she said. "This is my home."
The new citizens were not the only ones relieved to have reached the finishing line.
"I'm part of somebody's American dream. It means something to me," said Brett Rinehart, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Tampa bureau, who presided over the ceremony. "It's a celebration as much as it is an official act."
The ceremonies for this region are held every month.
When the moment they had been waiting for came, the new citizens held up their right hands and solemnly swore to renounce allegiances to foreign princes, potentates, governments and states. Some said they looked forward to being able to vote; others spoke of love for their new home.
Still, some loyalties seemed difficult, if not impossible, to give up.
Asked which team she is rooting for in soccer's World Cup, Maira Ortiz, who applied to be a citizen about four year ago, was ready with an answer.
"Brazil," the 20-year-old Tampa resident said with a grin. "It's my home country, and they are the best."
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 226-3383.