Eleazar Cervantes sat amid excited immigrants last month at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland. It was the annual citizenship ceremony linked with Portland’s Cinco de Mayo celebration.

For Cervantes, 55, becoming a United States citizen “is like a dream come true.” He has waited 40 years to fulfill the dream.

“I cannot believe it,” he said.

Cervantes arrived in the United States from Michoacán at age 15 and from that day worked hard to make a living, serve his new country and go through legal channels to become a citizen.

With tears in his eyes and a broken voice, Cervantes looked at his wife, Conchita López Miranda, and saw in her the motivation that led him to this important step. “She supported me in everything and insisted all the time that I should become a citizen. I owe this to her and to my family who accompanied me in this process,” he said.

Cervantes has been a member of St. Joseph Parish in Salem for 30 years. There, his marriage has remained strong, his children have grown and the family has lived a tradition of faith.

“I am a Catholic in this country to follow the path that my parents taught me in Mexico,” he said.

With a certificate of citizenship and the stars and stripes in his hands, he said, “I give infinite thanks to God because he took me on this path to become a citizen.”

At the ceremony, immigrants stood in unison and sang the national anthem. They came from 24 different countries.

Guest speaker for the day was John Herrera, director of Immigration Legal Services for Catholic Charities of Oregon. A U.S. citizen born in Colombia, Herrera felt honored. “We are here with the pride of being Latino, but also of being American at heart and being part of the greatest nation that opens its arms,” Herrera said, adding that immigrants contribute to the greatness of the country. Immigrants create many things, Herrera said, including hope for those who will follow.