40 minutes later, U.S. citizens

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Fifteen-year-old Mihran Houhannesyan raised his right hand, said a few words, and picked up his citizenship certificate moments later, getting a high-five and hug from his mother.

But there was a problem.

"I don't like the picture," Mihran said.

No matter, the Glendale resident was granted citizenship Thursday in a ceremony of more than 110 people representing 28 countries, organizers said.

"This is the paper," Mirhan's mother, Vardanush Houhannesyan, said. "You have to feel it in the heart."

The ceremony was for mostly children, who have different citizenship requirements than adults. Many obtained citizenship through their naturalized parents, while adopted children acquire their status from their citizen-parents.

Mirhan was born in Armenia, but Russian and Filipino Glendale residents were also among the newly minted citizens Thursday.

"This is now officially your country," President Obama said in a video message. "You have an opportunity to enrich this country through your contributions."

Jane Arellano, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district director, told the new citizens, all between ages 1 and 27, to be active and embrace their new privileges.

"Keep learning as much as you can," she said. "Know what you're voting for and understand the issues."

The roughly 40-minute ceremony was somber throughout, as the crowd waved American flags after taking their Oath of Allegiance and renouncing their previous citizenship.

"I've been living the American dream for a while," said Mirhan, who moved to the U.S. in 1999. "Now it's actually real."

Some in the crowd sang along to musician Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," others recorded the event with digital cameras and cell phones. Many posed for pictures with the numerous American flags and the six-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty.

The Oganeyan family planned to remember 16-year-old Stepan Oganeyan's moment with a family dinner.

"We've been looking forward to this day for nine years, we thank our lucky stars," his mother Karine Asatryan said. "The opportunities are so many here."

And Stepan said he's on his way to a career in civil engineering, with a 3.9 grade-point average at Verdugo Academy, Glendale Unified School District's independent study program.

He said he still remembers his first cheeseburger and French fries he had in 2001, when he landed in America.

"Living in the U.S. is nice," he said. "You get treated equally."

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