Becoming an American has been a longtime dream for many people who became naturalized citizens Wednesday in Jacksonville.
Thirty-one people became American citizens at a ceremony in the River City. They come from 17 different countries. The ceremony fell on the day before World Refugee Day.
There are more than 40 million refugees in the world. They've fled danger from religious, political and ethnic persecution in their home countries. That's why Cynthia Zon ended up in Jacksonville from Africa, and Wednesday she celebrated a huge milestone.
"Dream big, believe in miracles, discover your passion," Cynthia said is the creed she lives by every day. It's hanging above her work station at a Northside hair braiding salon where Cynthia works with her two sisters, who all escaped danger in their home country, the Ivory Coast in Africa.
"We had the war in my country and because my dad used to work in the government as a politician and we got into trouble a little bit, they were looking for us, my dad, everybody to kill us," Cynthia said. "So my older sister, they say, 'OK, we need to come here.' So we came safe here in America."
Cynthia followed her two sisters to the United States nine years ago. She made a new life for herself in Jacksonville, attended Florida State College at Jacksonville, where she got her GED, had her baby girl Ashley and opened up a hair salon with her sisters.
Wednesday afternoon, she took the Oath of Allegiance as she became a U.S. citizen.
"I was on the right lane, I did the right thing and I was just waiting on it to come and thank God it happened now," said Cynthia.
Since coming to Jacksonville, Cynthia hasn't been able to go back to her home country. Her parents and six brothers all still live in Africa.
"One of my little brothers is sick right now I'm trying to get him here he has a heart problem he was born with, but he needs heart surgery," said Cynthia.
While she celebrates her own huge accomplishment Wednesday, she prays one day soon her family, especially her sick brother, can experience American freedom, too.
"We're trying to find a hospital that can help so we can get the visa for him so he can come and do it, but the heart surgery is very expensive so we're trying to get something that we can do," said Cynthia.
The citizenship candidates hail from the following 17 countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Georgia, Russia, Sudan, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Vietnam. Last year, USCIS naturalized more than 700,000 people nationwide.