As we sit down in the Starbucks, Mariana Molosag insists on paying for the bottled water.

"It's a special day for me," she says, smiling.

Ten minutes earlier, in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House, her dream had come true when she took the oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony on Flag Day.

It couldn't get more special for Molosag, who was born 31 years ago in Balti, Moldova, population about 10,000 then, lower now.

A Soviet satellite until 1991, Moldova has a population of 3.5 million and dropping, with Europe's poorest economy, according to the CIA World Factbook. Although poor, the nation does require students to study three languages — Russian, Romanian (same as Moldovan), and either French or English.

Molosag was a child when Moldova was under the Soviet heel. She was not deprived, but had no idea of what went on beyond the borders because TV carried only Moldovan and Romanian programming. "My mom tells me how it was" under Soviet rule, she says in lightly accented English. "They had jobs, they had everything, but they did not have freedom. They didn't even have the right to be themselves." Everything was the same, from attire to thought.

Her first taste of the world outside was provided by a student volunteer from the U.S.

"The student taught policy debate," says Molosag. "I didn't know anything about it; this helped me so much." Although a good student, she had been shy. The debate helped her blossom.

"Plus, he started showing us different cultures, like in America, and it made me realize this is a country where I want to be."

Nine years ago, while a university student in Moldova, she was able to come to the States to work for an American company, "like a training program," she tells me.

The intent was to study and return, but Cupid interfered in the form of Josh Myers, who is now her husband. They live in the Northeast and both work in construction, for different companies.

As we sit sipping bottled water, I ask Molosag if she can recall what was in her mind at the moment she swore allegiance and became an American citizen.

She thinks for a second. "I can do everything right now. Everything is in my hands. It doesn't matter who I am, what my background is, where I am coming from, I am a citizen," she says firmly.

I tell her she is describing the American Dream.

"I believe in the American Dream," she responds. "This is the thing I know for sure, you can be anything you want to be. But you have to work for it, which I am willing to do."

Her plans are to finish school — she had been studying international economic relations — and she feels destined to do something big, perhaps build something with her own name on it.

That's a down-the-road goal. Her immediate goal is to "raise a good citizen."

Her 2-year-old daughter, Cordelia, speaks three languages, and Molosag deeply understands the benefit her daughter enjoys just by being an American.

"Everyone looks at you equally," she says, "and I know because when I was looking for a job, nobody asked me where my parents are from or what they do. They look at you as a person."

Molosag sounds as if she's reading from a Catalog of Immigrant Clichés: the things we've always heard, but which the bitter or disillusioned no longer believe. Immigrants see beyond the current ugliness of our politics to the promise of America.

Immigrants believe the clichés. That belief empowers them, makes them optimists.

Wednesday afternoon, in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House, our nation embraced 13 new Americans — 13 for the stars and stripes in the flag designed in Philadelphia.

All of the speakers welcomed the new Americans — from Eritrea, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, and Nepal, among others. City Councilman Mark Squilla told them they have joined "the family." Retired Army Gen. Carter Ham thanked them: "You make us stronger."

Grateful immigrants, such as Mariana Molosag, may not know it, but they are as valuable to America as America is to them.

They are keepers of the American Dream.