Minutes before she was sworn in as a new U.S citizen on Wednesday, Ana Gomez held a U.S. flag in one hand. With the other, she filled out her first-ever voter registration form — using a large enveloped stuffed with her citizenship papers as a makeshift lap desk.

When asked why she immigrated from her native El Salvador, she said. “It’s very bad there, very dangerous” because of gangs and crime. “The people are poor. Everybody struggles.”

How is life in America?

“Here, it is like a paradise.” The Lehi resident says she want to help keep it that way — including using her new right to vote. “I thank God that he led me here.”

While July 4 is a time to celebrate America, Gomez and 125 other Utahns officially became Americans on Wednesday — just in time for Independence Day.

In a packed Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City, immigrants from 41 countries raised their hands as a group to renounce old allegiances and take the oath to become U.S. citizens.

They came from Afghanistan, Argentina, Belize, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burma, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Former state Rep. Francis Merrill, sister of former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, told the global group, “We honor the diversity. It is what made America great. Your opinion is very important to our country,” and urged them to vote and make their many different voices heard.

They were among 7,500 new citizens participating in 110 special naturalization ceremonies around the country during the week of July 4 — in venues from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City to George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Many of the Utah immigrants say they love the opportunities that America offers — and pledge to help their new country with hard work.

Elizabeth Leon Ferrin says she has lived the American dream since she immigrated from Peru.

“I feel more independent. I was able to get my driving license and get a car,” she said, adding that may never have happened in Peru. “I have a nice home, and little girl,” a 3-year-old name McKaley.

As a citizen, she can now sponsor her mother as a new immigrant also. “My dad passed away a few years ago. I don’t have much family left in Peru. My mom is the last one living there.”

Lizeth Love immigrated from Guatemala 25 years ago. “It was dangerous. We didn’t feel safe anywhere,” she says. “The difference here is night and day. Coming here is a blessing that changed my life.”

She says becoming a citizen also makes her feel more secure at a time when threats against immigrants by the Trump administration made even legal permanent residents with green cards anxious. “We can go back to Guatemala now to visit family and return.”

Melanie Baldini, 19, immigrated from Argentina when she was 2-years old, and remembers little about that country. But she talks a lot about the advantages here.

“My mom had cancer. America has a better health care system,” she says, so they came for that and “for a better life and a better future for me and my sister.”

Baldini, a Layton resident who is a Weber State University student, says she has always thought of herself as American as she was raised here. “Now I really am one,” and just in time for a favorite holiday. “I’ve always loved July Fourth. It’s the best of holidays,” and will celebrate her new citizenship with real fireworks.

Cynthia Wainscott, who immigrated 10 years ago from Peru, also says, “Becoming a citizen before July 4 has special meaning. My daughter was born on July 5, and she wanted me to become a citizen before her birthday” and America’s birthday. Her daughter Claire turns six on Friday.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cynthia Wainscott, from Peru, makes a few comments as she waves to her family in the balcony, after taking the oath of citizenship, along with 125 other new citizens of the United States from 41 different countries, during a naturalization ceremony at the Jeanné Rose Wagner Theatre in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, July 3, 2019.
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Wainscott also brought a loud cheering section of 10 friends dressed in patriotic colors. “They helped me study for the citizenship test,” she says. “They have become my family here. I love the people here.”

As she talked about her July 4 plans, Teresita Parodi perhaps showed just how American she’s become since she immigrated from Argentina 19 years ago.

“I have to work that day,” as a cashier at Walmart, she says. “Afterward I’ll go to Saratoga Springs where my daughter lives” for a backyard barbecue and maybe to watch some fireworks. With work, family and opportunities here, she says, “I’m very happy.”