HOUSTON (CN) - A naturalization ceremony in the country's most ethnically diverse city showed America is still a beacon of hope, despite the vows of Republican governors to stop Syrian refugees from settling here.
Houston edged out New York to become the most diverse city in the nation as of 2010, according to a census analysis by the Kinder Morgan Institute for Urban Research.
It has also accepted the most Syrian refugees, 90, of the 2,200 who have moved to the United States since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, according to the Houston Chronicle.
To celebrate the city's diversity, Houston dubbed November "Citizenship Month" and partnered with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to swear in 73 new Americans on Thursday in a city library in the Gulfton neighborhood, southwest of downtown.
In Gulfton, you'll find Hispanic men hawking mangos on street corners, women in hijabs crossing the traffic-heavy streets that are lined with Arabic signs, and African men in dashikis waiting at bus stops and restaurants advertising exotic foods like saffron-flavored kabobs and pupusas, a Salvadoran staple made of tortillas, meat and cheese.
Houston City Councilman Mike Laster spoke about that diversity at Thursday's ceremony.
"Some of you have heard me call this part of town the Ellis Island of this city. And for those of you who know you're American history, you know that Ellis Island was the point of entry for thousands upon thousands of Americans. Just as Galveston was," Laster said. "Today we sit at the heart of an international community, where we celebrate as many as 85-different language communities resident in this neighborhood."
Solomon Gebrekrios, a 32-year-old from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, sat in a back corner of the meeting room that hosted the ceremony. He gushed with pride as he explained he was there to see his wife become a U.S. citizen.
Gebrekrios naturalized nine years ago and returned to his home country to find his bride. They now have two young kids, a boy and girl, both U.S. citizens.
"I came to this country under political asylum. It was back in 2002 or 2001. The government was going to colleges, universities and high schools and arresting the students," Gebrekrios said. "At that time I took off from that country and I go to Kenya, I asked for political asylum and the United Nations refugee service accepted my case and I came to the United States."
The U.S. is special because of the travel privileges citizenship confers, he said.
"A U.S. Passport is really good when you want to travel," Gebrekrios said. "My God, every country accepts the U.S. passport."
He said the Ethiopian government pretends to support democracy, but it's a farce.
"Back home still you can't speak critically of the government. You can't say nothing. Because of that the Army sometimes goes to colleges and universities and if they want they're going to shoot you. They don't care," Gebrekrios said.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore, an African-American, presided over the ceremony and administered the Oath of Allegiance to the immigrants, the largest groups of which were from Vietnam and Mexico.