Gladys Mwilelo and Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Recorded April 7, 2021 Archived April 6, 2021 32:29 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv000621


Gladys Mwilelo (23) speaks with her friend Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo (55) about her shifting sense of self, coming to the United States as a refugee, and celebrating family traditions, especially with food and dance.

Subject Log / Time Code

GM speaks about who has been kindest to her in life, noting that she has began to be kinder to herself. GM reflects on the process of finding oneself and becoming her own advocate. JZF cites GM’s confident attitude in overcoming life’s obstacles.
GM recalls some of her happiest memories of her family being together, and recalls growing up as a refugee in Burundi, coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. GM reflects on the different family dynamics and culture in America, and shares her family’s love of food, particularly pilau rice, and dance.
GM remembers her family having their first Thanksgiving celebration. GM talks about the common refugee tradition of celebrating birthdays on January 1st.
GM reflects on what she’s most proud of in her life: her self-development and eagerness to be a learner. GM speaks about being honest and true to oneself.
JZF asks GM if she has a memory that she wishes she could hold onto forever. GM remembers her first time boarding a plane with her entire family, preparing to migrate to the United States and find their home. “I grew up just seeing planes flying around, and used to ask myself if one day I’d be on one of those.”
GM reflects on how her life has been different than she imagined. GM says she has never had defined expectations of her life, and rather thinks of setting goals for herself and accepting what that comes her way.
GM shares her thoughts on her generation. GM says she notes a reluctance for those her age to own themselves, having pride in their accomplishments and, accepting themselves and the decisions they’ve made.
JZF speaks about her relationship with GM, and what GM has meant to her. JZF recalls their first meeting and shares her hopes for GM’s future. GM speaks about JZF as someone she chooses to spend time with and learns so much from, in terms of life experience.


  • Gladys Mwilelo
  • Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Recording Location

Virtual Recording


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00:03 My name is Gladys Willow. I'm 23 years old today, is April 7th 2021. I'm in New Haven, Connecticut. And today, I'll get to know my friend, Jenny Village.

00:19 Hi, my name is Jeanne zulick ferruolo. And I am 55 years old and today is April 7th, 2021. And I am talking to my good friend. Django. Gladys me lay low from Ellington, Connecticut.

00:35 Nice to meet you at Jenny and a question. And that is Gladys. Can you tell me about a person who has been kindness to you? And your life is beautiful. Thank you, Jenny. So it would kind of sound does selfish but I just have to say it because I have come to learn that the person that has always been kind to me as myself because of 10. I do things where I doubt myself, you know, whenever I'm trying to do something or whenever I'm trying to embark on a New Jersey, you know, I have always no doubt myself, maybe downgrade myself thinking, I'm not enough or I want more, but at the same time, I have come to learn. It's not going to want more. And I just need to appreciate.

01:35 The process. I just need to appreciate myself and knowing that the work that I do at the end of the day. I am my own Advocate. If I cannot be there for my cell phone is going to be. So for many years have come to learn about always so harsh on myself for not giving my supposed to page to feel, you know, the things that I need to feel. If I'm being hurt. I really need to accept that. I'm being hurt. If I am very happy. I really need to be expressive. And I show myself that I am really happy about a process or but something that I'm trying to do. So that's why I have come to realize that we have to be not have to be my own, you know, the kind of person have to be kind to myself before someone else, you know, embark on that journey and saying I need to be kind.

02:25 I love that answer so much. And I think that's something that has always struck me about you is that you're so incredibly confident, but it's like that confidence. It's like it comes from deep inside you. Like it's just so part of you and it comes from such an honest place. And one at one question that I had asked you once when we were talking is I said, you know, with all the kind of challenges you face in your life really hard challenges. You know, why, why don't you let you know, you must have been so frustrated that must have been times where you are so frustrated and without batting an eye, you said to me, I look at all those obstacles as an opportunity to learn about myself and the world around me, and I love that.

03:25 Answer so much. And I don't know if you want to talk a little bit more about that because when you said that I was like, whoa, that was like such. I don't know. It it was it was like such a powerful and strong and honest answer. It's still just think of like hearing you say, that brings tears to my eyes because of your strength. And so, you know, I don't know if maybe you can speak a little too that about how you feel, you know, still today when you when you come across obstacles in your life is beautiful. Thank you so much for remembering. That was beautiful. You know, when you get to remind me then because sometimes I say things but then you know, I'm not remembering them. And if I remember them, you reminding them. It just brings even more strength into me, everything go today cuz reminder is it's an important thing because

04:24 It just reminds us that way, but we are going forward or whether we are learning something. So, I would say even today, like you mentioned for me, never ends. Meet me face challenges in our lives every single day. But one thing that I can say again, I have learned to not just sit down and feel sorry for myself. It's good to do story. But at the same time, you know, we have to move on. We have to whatever we have learned. I was something I have learned that, you know, if it's a challenge then how do I help myself is by getting up, fixing nothing Challenge and finding ways to move forward with it. I have I have come to learn that, not define who I am. I have to be fond of challenges that are coming in my way, because it's part of life, you know.

05:24 Once again, we are human challenges going in but I just have to keep reminding myself. But you know, you can't just sit but you have to get up and find a way to move forward with whatever you're ready have and not how you are going to pick up the strength. Again, you know, it's so yes, I'm still doing the same thing even today cuz like I mention early, I am my own Advocate. If I can not, the whole word will not be there before someone else on that journey to advocate for me. It's all about not just forgetting who I am. Just be the kind of person that gives them and give them. Get what about me. And it's very difficult, have come to learn so many people who go to the, you know, you do things for the well-being of others, but then we can't afford it.

06:24 Self install every single day challenges are teaching me to learn about me. What kind of person am I? I don't learn to just give up, or you keep on moving forward. You always move four times in that regard and I, you know, for somebody who's so young, you truly know who you are and that's inspirational as well. So, can you tell me something? Can you tell me? One of your happiest memories?

07:04 Yes, my happiest memories again. I was originally born from Democratic Republic of the Congo but I was raised in Burundi to to work or my family had to escape my original country, which is Congo. And we decided to move to be ruined and leave there. For many of those refugees. My happiest memory of growing up in Baroda. I would say it's the togetherness of a community. I come from a very big family and with that big family, no matter what the situation is, whether we are going to difficult, time to whatever you're going to do time. We were always together always together or not together, I think about. But when the allowing, if I think about bologna, I think about my family together. When we first move, I mean, even today on the move to the United States because we have to move, you know, life.

08:04 Work out to go to school in a. We find ourselves that sometimes you don't even get to see each other for a week and it's right. It's a new kind of life. I'm going, nothing else,. Not everybody goes to work when you go to school. Yes. Going to squeeze a tradition but not everybody can go to work. So it's either, mom would work with that would work, but then the rest of the children you might be at home together, but I want to be kidding, you know, if someone went to work in the morning. So we don't have that togetherness together and if he comes sometimes during the holidays and for me, I feel like why do we have to get together or we during holidays? Right? Because we used to get together even a dinner every single night, you know, but today in America, it doesn't come everyday for us to have dinner together and not has also taught me to be very thankful, you know, and appreciate, you know, even if we don't get together.

09:04 We can you take that opportunity and and I get to get together my family. So that's my memory of togetherness with my family and so is are there things. I know you're your mother's, an amazing cook and I know you do you cook a lot to? Is there other meals that you can get together for or activities or events? Or I think you told me once that you all love to dance. Do you ever try to set something up to make sure you get together? Or is there something that goes on when you are altogether?

09:42 Stop again, when people comes when we come together as a family with my family. It's all revolves around food, you know, it's a hungry dog, but we need to feel our stomach and energy to even talk to them a lot. My dad would just put music in our backyard and then you just start dancing and dancing on top and neighbors would join us. When we get together. We eat a lot. So the special food most of the time going up and it's right right can come in all kind of warm not how I grew up learning, you know, it's not just what we cook or kind of right. But most of the time the special rights is called pilau. So can I cook with so many ingredients? Its color?

10:42 You could come in the color brown in becoming a color of green light so that, you know, growing up as a child. Do you know, you need to have that right in after you cook so much of them and rice, you know, because I grew up in a country where in rice is very expensive and if you get it sometime together sometime because it was such a skill kind of food, right? Whenever a child get it, you kind of just really happy you get really happy to get excited because it's not a meal that you get to eat every single day. So whenever you get it, you could advantage of it. You really eat it as much as you can do it. Day every child, you know, we'll be happy and that's how I grew up that way. No one ever arise and whenever special occasion. The most of the time is New Year's Eve.

11:42 So we would cook like my dad, make sure that, you know that day and no matter what we're going to have to have right, you know, it's so it's so important about the Beautiful Moments that I remember, growing up in a bun with my family. That's nice. You still try to do that here in the United States. To maybe it's a very hard to do that. Yeah. We haven't actually done any big Gathering leaving when I graduated high school. It's something that you would expect the family to do, but we haven't even had a chance to do that. If you ask me, why, I don't know. I feel like my family. They just kind of people anymore, but most of the time, even if we could, it's not going to work because I might be in the hospital working or not.

12:42 We all of us not here. We don't get to do that much. But once we were able to do our first Thanksgiving dinner, we had a whole beef and turkey for the first time in my life. That was 2018-2019. It was such a beautiful thing to know if you know that my family were able to just sit down and eat a meal together, still celebrate on New Year's. I think you told me that it's a lot of people's birthdays on you.

13:18 Yes, a lot of people. A lot of I should say refugees person when it comes to New Year's wishes, January 1st. That is a lot of God's. There's a lot of birthday going on. But the question is why is everybody I'm done with the first wave. So the big head. I think it's how the system is because when you know refugees must have been a war in their countries and some of them lose their identification. Some of them don't lose their birth certificate in order, So whenever I don't know that we are giving you birthdays. I don't know. How does this that works? I myself my entire family wants of us.

14:18 I have the documents. I don't understand why that happened. But yes, can you call we do, celebrate play? I don't want to because I just didn't go up there with Brayden birthday, not because it's just something that I wasn't raised into, you know, it's not something that my parents to do going up. So yeah, right.

14:55 What am I proud of you? You're so young. So many things. So, is there something you're most proud of?

15:12 I'm one of my Prado. I am just tired of the kind of person. I am becoming right again. It goes back to me talking about myself again. I don't usually do. But I'm I'm becoming the kind of person that enjoys talking about me a lot because, you know, I matter whatever I do, you know what, I successful, it always comes back to me. So that's why I have to acknowledge the good kind of person. I am becoming not my age now, my success. But the kind of person that you're willing to learn and willing to learn from others willing to teach others being open. And just being honest with myself. That's the kind of person I am. And I just hope to inspire so many people.

16:13 Beat yourself just be honest. You're so sometimes in life. We will just be taught to be maybe so. But anyway, talk to me is exactly. We are inspired to become and who want to become. So I am learning to accept who I am as much as I can from. Are there any possibly also teach other ways to not, to be honest and just accept themselves in the orange skin, in the orange, the matter what we lie. They are going to accept yourself, you're so I could ask you that question. I think in 50 years and it would give the same answer, right? Because it's the, it's a beautiful answer that you know, it to be proud of who you are. And I see that in you.

17:12 Every time I ask a question, when we are working on our project together, you know, you you always everything comes from such an honest place, but with so much wisdom attached to it. You are a very much my teacher Gladys. And I think I a teacher to so many, not just me for sure. So let me ask another question if you could hold on to like, and of course, you're so you're so young. But is there some memory from your life already? If you could hold on to that memory forever, what would that be?

17:52 Memories of my first time entering into a plane with my entire family, you know, the reason I say that is because you don't get to mind what you did have family. Just like that family vacation spots different for my situation was different because my family and I are both of us, you know.

18:52 But then we got safety, not really fully safe. Now. We have to go find another new home for ourselves. So, knowing that I had to enter into that huge playing for the first settlement established going with my country into the United States to find a new home for me and them together. It's a Memory, that'll keep together because I grew up the same plane flying around lately. I see them flying around. Then I used to know if I was fortunate enough to enter a plane for the first time, the entire family of 12 people together, which is very well represented, picking up on your big family, most of the time, sometimes, go to sleep.

19:45 Both linked to what you mean? The older siblings might go first and then the father may be in the mother and younger siblings. Maybe might come later for my family were fortunate to have family move to Connecticut together. In a huge fly, a plane in the movie of being able to come to my new home, my forever home with my entire family. Then when I was 13 years old.

20:27 Wow, and you are did and at that time, as you were getting on that plane, I think, you know, did you kind of know? Maybe, maybe not. But did you kind of think? Wow, I I might not ever come back here again.

20:43 Birthday idea was thinking if I ever go back.

20:49 At that time, I didn't think about it at the moment to make mine. It's not something that was thinking about all I was thinking about, you are. You know, I'm going to America and I'm going to find a new home, but then if I really want to come back or not, that will find out as we go on a tank. That was an interesting part about it. I always think about every single thing that going on and what does my present by Future on my butt? But that moment of flying up when I didn't really think about my Pap might bite my pot right now is, I'm flying right? Right. Now, I'm going to be later. I didn't even think about it later. And yes, I think about it.

21:47 I love that though, cuz that's so you. You're always looking forward to the next challenge, the next accomplishment, the next opportunity. So I thought that I love that. So I don't know about this question. How has your life been different than what you'd imagined?

22:17 How hard my life and death in the night margined?

22:23 I would say.

22:26 In terms of,

22:31 Just a light life in general,. I would say it's really different because

22:46 Actually, no, I should say different than I imagined. I should just say that I am taking it, you know, not to look at it and then something that I didn't have a high expectations of my life, meaning that I'm expecting myself, you know, to be expecting this kind of life. I don't get to be set to expectations for myself and gold, but I don't because either they come too high of a dictation. I might end up becoming disappointed, right? I just, I don't like to be disappointed. That's why I don't play my life is I would say it and I'm just accepting every single moment of what am I?

23:46 I just taking it in and learn or do you know that is for me to decide and not a moment and then it's whatever life up in the moment, you know, I just accepted two and it's easy for me. It was always about money. But sitting expectation is not something that I'm really good at is that you're always open you just approach every situation as wide open as what am I going to take from this? I'm not going to expect anything. I'm just go.

24:46 Into you know, what am I going to learn from this situation? What am I going to learn about myself and the world around me as, you know, you've you've told me and so you come from a very position of openness as opposed to maybe expectation, which is such an amazing attitude and it's just, it's just such a great perspective to have. So, you know, every time I talk to you, you've just been open to everything. I'm not not that you're not willing to say. No that's you know, not somewhere. I'm going to go, but but you listen, first before you make a decision about anyting.

25:40 So is there anything else that we haven't covered that? You like to talk about?

25:48 Not something that I really want to talk about it but it's just a comment. Annuity, everyone. Who is that? Like, I mentioned earlier in my main part of this was you know.

26:05 Just to be accepting to be not the thing ourselves. I will always have to bring it up everywhere I go because I'm looking at people, I've been poking and I think, you know who the part of it is, you know, I'm trying to learn from them and then maybe one day at a time. In my generation, especially, you know, we have become this kind of individuals who sometimes, you know, what in yourself you are doing things every single day, but when someone is asking you how proud of you, but you need to own it, you know, you need owning every single thing you do is one thing that I wanted to take everybody is own.

27:02 Whatever you do on yourself first on yourself because once he on yourself, that's the weapon you carry around with you. That's that is the Kindle that direction to the right direction. So you can see with my go to the dark. That's the only thing that will allow you to what they decide to to do things or not to do things, being kind of what I'm not saying, you're not going to be kind to yourself and who you want to be real. That's so lovely. Let me make sure cuz you said something like so magical in there. And that is that and tell me if I'm getting. It's right. That we are like a candle. There's like a candle burning inside us and we basically have to hold that up just to find our way.

28:02 Wow, and it's just so you. So as we were starting this, if there was one question, it says turn the tables and tell the person you're interviewing what they've meant to you. So I'm going to do that. I hope that's okay. So you and I started on a project together where we are working on a story about a girl from America and a girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo. And I was, I was thinking about that today because we're coming close to finishing. That is I started thinking. What is the first time I met Gladys? Because part of me is like, I feel like I've known you my whole life and I know I'm a lot older than you but I still feel like I've just known you my whole life and

29:02 I think that just says something about your spirit and your wisdom. I think you transcend. And so I don't know. I just wanted to say how much I look forward to our meetings. And when we're working on our project and I'm getting to meet you and your family. It's just been such a just just wonderful part of my life. That's an enriching part and then it just how happy it makes me, you know, two of them to have gotten to know you Gladys and as as somebody else has said, but I will say again is that you are so much my teacher and really

29:55 I hope that you're already strong voice spread throughout the world because we all have so much to learn from you. See, this is what I'm always saying that and I surround myself with beautiful people who are just reminding me that again, it's been really wonderful. You know, I'm just being able to meet you cuz I do that is because I learned almost every single day from you. Because the thing is, you know, when it's done because the reason I learned a lot from you is,

30:43 I'm young. Yes, you've been through the same age. You were, you were 18 before? You weren't younger. You were in the same. So you've been to all those phases like so, you know, so much because the light was just giving you a few other kind of thing as you grow. You are learning so much to me. You know, what learning now from you. It's kind of remind me. I'm not the only one who's experiencing whatever. I'm not the only one who wasn't with you and talk about what we become comfortable with each other. Every single day, is what I love about you because you're not.

31:43 Little meet with you talk about every single thing that we feel like we are open to talk about.

31:50 Well, I am grateful. I'm grateful to have you for a friend Gladys. Thank you there. Anything else do you want to?

32:03 I guess, what today is, you know, these beings having a wonderful talk, you know, having a wonderful talk today. Look at the interviews by you. I was looking for it today, me to. So thank you so much. Gladys for taking time to talk with me today.