By CNN's Susan Garraty
The Fourth of July with its fireworks, barbecues, and parades is also a day when thousands of men and women around the country take their oath of allegiance and become American citizens. Debate and controversy surrounds the marked rise in the number of immigrants arriving from Central America hoping to make new homes in the United States, but aboard the historic battleship USS New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey on Independence Day there was only joy and celebration as 38 people swore allegiance to this country. The newly minted citizens included several men and women already serving in different branches of the U.S. armed forces.
Nelson Bonel Bouangalolo arrived as a young refugee with his mother and three siblings from the Republic of Congo just five years ago. He didn’t speak a word of English, but he was determined to set an example as the oldest child in his family. The 24-year-old joined the Air Force two years ago, and is focused on attaining a set of goals.
“I am the first in my family to graduate from high school, the first to go to college, and now I am the first to be an American citizen,” he said in a telephone interview after his naturalization ceremony."
His mother, a caregiver, and the rest of his family were unable to travel from their home in Tuscon, Arizona for the event.
“I called my mother on the phone afterwards and she stopped what she was doing and did a dance,” said Bouangalolo.
The Fourth of July is no longer just Independence Day for America, he added. “It is my new American birthday.”Follow @SusanGarraty