It was a journey of 4,440 days.
That's the time it took me to become an American citizen after arriving to the United States as a student in the summer of 1997 to travel a new road.
For immigrants it's like climbing to the top of Everest.
With my hand over my heart, I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States in a moving and warm ceremony Tuesday at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in Miami, where 198 people from 30 countries were naturalized.
Hours before the oath, USCIS officials invited me to be the keynote speaker at the event. Of course, I accepted the great honor. It was my first assignment as an American citizen.
"Where else in the world are people from 30 countries naturalized on a normal afternoon?" I asked.
"We are fortunate to become part of the greatest democracy in the world; with this privilege come big responsibilities," I said to the applause of those who, like me, were celebrating a landmark in their lives, a rebirth of sorts.
It is a dream come true that millions of people in the world also yearn for, especially in places where there is no freedom. It is, in essence, what the founders of our new nation sought.
There are no words to express the depth of my feelings. Only those who have been naturalized after a long immigration process can relate. But if I were to define the act of naturalization, I would say that it is a treasure, a gift from the United States for our contributions, our good moral character and our perseverance.
I would like to think it's also a gift from God. What are the chances that I got my green card on Sept. 29, 2004 and on Sept. 29, 2009 I became a citizen? That's exactly five years, the minimum required by law.
The ceremony began with a moving video showing historical photographs of immigrants with quotes in which they shared their patriotism. Later, at one of the most emotional moments, a list was read of the new citizens by country of origin. Each group was to stand up. Colombia had the largest number: 24. There were immigrants from Uzbekistan, Morocco and Great Britain. There were 12 of us from Venezuela.
We were all happy, united by the realization of our common dream, although reaching it through different paths. In mine, there had been instances of anxiety, fear, euphoria. There were even nights in which I couldn't sleep because my future was unknown.
Not to mention the numerous challenges to demonstrate that I had something of value to contribute. Visits to attorneys, searches for documents, notarized translations, letters of recommendation, university grades, and the financial upheaval that came from meeting all those obligations.
In a bag they gave us, we found the flag, a copy of the Constitution and the Citizen's Almanac, which lists the contributions made by Americans born abroad in all areas of society, like Alexander Hamilton and Albert Einstein. It also included an application to register as a Florida voter and instructions on how to obtain a U.S passport.
As is traditional, a video message from the president congratulating the new citizens closed the event.
"You can help write the next chapter of our American story," Barack Obama said. "I am proud to welcome you as a citizen of this nation."
And I, Mr. President, am proud to be one of you.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Daniel Shoer-Roth is El Nuevo Herald's metro columnist.