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Photos: Faces of citizenship

Updated 3:18 PM ET, Tue July 1, 2014
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On June 29, 2012, in Atlanta, people from 54 countries became naturalized U.S. citizens. Read on to learn about their stories and what they think makes America exceptional. Among those naturalized were Denroy 'Peter' Willis of Jamaica, who came to America in 1992 and works at an auto dealership. "On the job, all the guys mess with me, joke with me about my speech and how I'm not American," he said. "When I go to work tomorrow, they can't say anything anymore. I'm an American." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
"America is exceptional in many ways," said Ruth McNerney, a commercial engineer and medical interpreter from Santiago, Chile, "but what it does best is welcoming people from so many cultures, and being able to, with its laws and regulations, make it work with everyone who comes from overseas." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
"Sometimes I remember, this is in my blood," said Eduardo Fraire-Contreras, who is of Mexican and Apache descent. "I remember the story of my people, of them fighting for land. You love the land you fight for. Now, it's my land, too." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
Mary Acholonu left Nigeria in 1967 for the United States to pursue her education and get married. She says the United States is a haven for families and those in need of medical care. "I finally made up my mind [to become a citizen] because I love it here. America is a wonderful place." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
What does being an American citizen mean? "The ability to change your life," said Javier Chavez, originally from Mexico. "It's easier to get somewhere else, if you want to go out of the country." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
"I'm actually fond of American history. The presidents really inspire me," said Marcelo Painter of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who said he would like to run for Congress someday. "I love politics. I love to stand for what's right and fair for everybody." Until then, his most anticipated role as an American citizen is that of voter. "As long as I have a voice," he said, "there will be people who side with my ideas. Who will understand, and relate. And when there's more than one voice, you have a lot of power to do something." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
"To tell the truth, I don't feel like I'm treated any differently. . . People tell me that I look like an American," said Jose Vitor Monteiro of Brazil who came with his daugher Maria. Now that he's a citizen, he says he feels like one, too. "I can walk every place and feel like I belong. This is the best." And while he's still unsure of his knowledge of American politics, he is considering exercising his rights. "Maybe I will vote! Because now, I am American." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
"A lot of people come here because they want a better life, I came just for love," Teresa Marino of Brazil said of her 12-year journey to citizenship. "My story is a love story, and today is a very important day. [My husband] became an American citizen before me, and I'm becoming an American citizen for him and his kids." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
What does Gina Torres bring to America? "I bring a person who wants to work and move forward, a free spirit who doesn't stay in one place and can overcome difficulties," said Torres, who came to the United States from Colombia 10 years ago to fulfill her dream of studying architecture. "America was really far away. I was so far away I never thought I'd have the opportunity to come until my mom moved and brought me here. It was Disneyland everywhere for me. Everything seemed so organized and perfect. It's not like I don't love where I come from, but it is a different picture here." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
While she's nervous about starting life as an American, Kristina Arnaoutova, formerly of Obninsk, Russia, said the American people's welcoming attitude will help her adapt to her new country. "I feel more positivity and optimism here. America is all about immigration, too. Two hundred years ago, people came from Europe, it's all immigrants. It's just a difference of time." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN
"I want to be legal in this country for my rights, but I'm doing this for my wife and two kids," said Jaime Burgos, who came from Honduras and has been supporting his family in America for 14 years. "You can get everything here. In my country, it's poor. Over there, the criminal situation is horrible. Here, we have security. I feel safe." Raymond McCrea Jones/CNN