At 11:29 a.m. yesterday, 140 resident aliens -- most of them Hispanic -- raised their right hands in the Baltimore County Council chamber.
Two minutes and one oath later, Cynthia Lee of the Immigration and Naturalization Service declared, "Congratulations, new citizens."
More than a few in the standing-room-only audience dabbed at their eyes.
The new citizens and their families exchanged hugs and kisses. Cameras with flashes recorded the event as the new Americans waved their tiny Stars and Stripes and held up their naturalization certificates.
It was a memorable day -- but for none more than Angela Pestana, 91, who left Cuba 25 years ago and took the oath along with a son Andres, 61, and granddaughter Anabel Pestana, 26.
Anabel Pestana of Gaithersburg said her late grandfather became a citizen, but not her grandmother. "We've always wanted to do this, and she wanted to do it before she dies," Ms. Pestana said.
Angela Pestana tried to keep up with the English conversation flowing around her, before finally offering an observation, in Spanish, that reflected the strength of ancestral ties: "When [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro dies, everything will be better again."
The ceremony produced the first new Americans from a naturalization workshop sponsored in April by the Baltimore County Hispanic Advisory Council.
Its chairman, Manuel E. Alban, a native of Ecuador who publishes Baltimore's only Spanish-language newspaper, El Heraldo, said the next workshop will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Chesapeake Room of the Student Union at Towson State University.
Although the Hispanic Council sponsors the workshops, they are open to people of any nationality.
"People are afraid of the papers, the forms," said Mr. Alban. The workshop is to help people complete the documents and answer questions.
Raphael Santini, a lawyer whose family emigrated from Argentina when he was 7, told audience members their citizenship confers great new benefits but also imposes large responsibilities.
Among the benefits, Mr. Santini said, "are the freedom to pursue happiness and the Fourth Amendment right to be secure from government intrusion."
Gloria Brennan, a Colombian native and naturalized citizen who sang the National Anthem, wore on her jacket a reminder of the responsibilities -- the Bronze Star for valor awarded to her brother, Army 1st Lt. Carlos Alberto Pedrosa, who was killed in action in South Vietnam in 1972.
"He was an American citizen for less than 10 years when he gave his life for his country," she said.