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Sixty-six naturalized in Fourth of July ceremony

TAMPA — When Yolie Ryan learned she would become a U.S. citizen on the Fourth of July, she knew she had to go shopping.

At JCPenney on Sunday, she picked out a red dress and white blazer. Her husband gave her pearls. She painted her nails a glittery red.

Before Thursday's ceremony, she completed her patriotic outfit with an American flag pin — one her husband got while working for the U.S. government in the Philippines.

That's where the pair met. She worked in the hotel where Larry Ryan usually stayed. They married in 2005 and settled in the Philippines.

Life was good. They had two housekeepers and hibiscus flowers the size of dinner plates. But as Larry's mother aged, the pair wanted to be close. They moved to Tampa, and a year ago Yolie started working toward citizenship.

On Thursday, she joined 65 other people from 27 countries who swore allegiance to the United States. There was a couple from Kenya. A 72-year-old woman from Mexico. Their families and friends crowded the event hall at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Larry Ryan took photos from the side. At one point, tears welled in Yolie's eyes.

"It's so good," she said. "It feels so good."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke during the ceremony, giving a nod to his family members who emigrated from Ireland three generations ago.

"You are Americans," he told the crowd. "You are part of a great experiment that started more than 200 years ago."

He encouraged them to go out and make their new country even better.

"Get involved. Vote. Stand up for what's right," he said.

Listening from the front row was 18-year-old Ahmed Elshaer, born in Egypt.

Though he left his birth country as a child 10 years ago, he was contemplative Thursday, reflecting on what it means to him to be an American — and what it means to officially leave behind a country now in turmoil.

Egypt's military ousted President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday, and Elshaer still has family in Egypt — grandparents, aunts and uncles. He said he's praying for them and for peace.

"Hopefully, it gets better," he said.

Elshaer is a student at Hills­borough Community College and hopes to study engineering at the University of South Florida. To him, becoming a U.S. citizen means celebrating unity. Americans show that more than he sees now in Egypt, he said.

His father, Abdelhay Elshaer, 54, also became a citizen Thursday, so their entire immediate family is now naturalized. (Ahmed's mother, brother and sister already took the oath.)

They planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with a special lunch Thursday.

And then for Ahmed?

"Independence Day," he said. "With Will Smith."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Sixty-six naturalized in Fourth of July ceremony 07/04/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 4, 2013 10:47pm]
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