PATERSON, N.J. (PIX11) — For Sheyla Verastegui, it was just one part of a big dream. She was 13 years old when she arrived in the United States from her native Peru. More than five years later, she became the first in her family to become a naturalized citizen of the United States.

“I feel like it encourages my family members to, you know, go through this process and have been living here for a long time for them to submit their papers, you know, and finally become citizens,” Verastegui told PIX11 News.

That journey was also fulfilled by 40 candidates – representing 17 countries – each took the Oath of Allegiance at Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony at Great Falls National Historic Park in Paterson. 

The backdrop was just the cherry on top for Freda Kagema, who overcame many obstacles to get to this moment. The Haledon resident, who is from Kenya, now plans to go back to school.

“It was God, miracles, a lot of intervention, persistence. All I can say is persistence pays,” she said.

The path to citizenship was not easy an easy one. 

Some candidates had to master English as a second language, while everyone was required to pass a U.S. history and government test. Recent surveys showed that 1/3 of natural-born citizens who went to school in the United States couldn’t even do it.

Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony happened in a city that has not only grown in population in the last census but also diversity. As a result, it’s now officially the most diverse city in New Jersey.

“Paterson and the United States of America is a better place because you call this country and this city home,” Mayor Andre Sayegh proclaimed to the group of new U.S. citizens.