By Kelly Lafferty
---- — Liliana Ferrada was 12 years old when she first remembers meeting Hugo Gonzalez.
He lived with his friend’s family on the same block as Liliana’s grandma in Valparaiso, Chile, and whenever there were weddings, funerals or parties, they both would be there.
They never thought of each other as more than acquaintances, though. In fact, Hugo knew Liliana’s grandma better than he knew Liliana. To him, Liliana was just a child, and to Liliana, Hugo was an adult. He was 12 years older than her.
When Liliana, who lived at school and visited her grandma on the weekends, started having problems in math class when she was 15, her grandma asked Hugo, who was studying chemical engineering at a university, if he would tutor her.
“I never thought of him as more than a teacher,” Liliana said. “I admired him. I thought he was very intelligent. When I finished [tutoring] and took my test, I got very good grades.”
The grades were so good, in fact, that Hugo invited her to celebrate by going to drink tea and eat cakes at a tea shop in Valparaiso.
They saw a lot of each other during those early summer months of 1959. Hugo had a Vespa and invited Liliana to take a ride with him to the beach, as just friends. They went to the cinema and dances together, too, where they danced to anything from soft, romantic instrumental music to rock and roll and the tango.
Hugo even gave her a present once, before Liliana went back to school. It was a ring, but not an engagement ring.
“He said, ‘I give you this because I don’t want you to forget me,’” Liliana said.
She doesn’t remember the exact moment she fell for Hugo, but she enjoyed getting to know more about him. He felt the same. But unlike Liliana, he remembers the instant he realized he was in love with her.
He was walking to his university and passed Liliana on the street. They said hello to each other and as Hugo watched her walk away, he knew.
“I saw her going away and I thought, ‘She’s my girl. This is the one I want to be my wife.’”
Soon Liliana told her father she didn’t want to live at school anymore. She wanted to live with her grandma. That way she could see Hugo more often, although she didn’t tell her dad that. Her friends began to notice Liliana was spending quite a bit of time with her tutor.
“My girlfriends would say, ‘Why do you go with the old man?’” Liliana laughed.
Liliana had feelings for Hugo, no matter how old they each were.
A few days shy of Liliana’s birthday, they were sitting at a park, and Hugo asked her a question.
“He told me, ‘I want to marry you, what do you think?’” Liliana said. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know how to do anything. I don’t know how to cook and I don’t like to. I don’t know if I’m the one for you.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll learn.’ And I said yes.”
They realized that they came from similar backgrounds, and that the time was right for both of them to be together. Liliana’s parents were divorced and Hugo’s father was a widow who lived and worked in Santiago.
“He was alone, I was alone. In that moment, maybe, we needed each other,” Liliana said.
Hugo had similar feelings.
“I thought that I could be with her and be confident that we want the same thing,” he said. “A family. Both of us haven’t had a real family. We wanted what we’d never had.”
Liliana knew she loved Hugo and wanted to be with him, but she was a little scared, too.
“I always thought he was perfect,” she said. “I was afraid that I would see he’s just a man, not a perfect man.”
She casted her doubts aside, and six months later the two were married at Sagrados Corazones in Valparaiso, Chile, on Dec. 26, 1959, when Liliana was 16 and Hugo was 28.
Hugo and Liliana moved around Chile a few times during the first part of their marriage as Hugo took different jobs. He worked at a paint factory as well as a factory that made explosives for miners in South America.
When the first Socialist president was elected in Chile, Hugo and Liliana wanted to leave. When Hugo was offered a job in Venezuela, he took it immediately.
“Everyone was afraid of a Communist government,” he said. “If someone offered you a job abroad, you were lucky, because bad things were going to happen in Chile.”
In March of 1971, they, along with their young children, left for Venezuela. Civil war soon broke out in Chile. Even after the military took over the government, things were still bad, It took time for the economy and government to recover.
The Gonzalezes moved back to Chile in 1984, after it was stable again. Liliana, who had gotten involved in the real estate business in Venezuela, stayed behind until she could sell their house. Moving a lot was hard for her.
“I didn’t like that, but we had to,” she said. “When we first left Chile, we lost very much money. When we left Venezuela, we lost more money. It was terrible.”
During those years, their children had studied abroad in the United States. Hugo and Liliana visited them often. After Hugo again moved back to Venezuela for a job, his family decided to move there too, so they could all be together.
Then things got dangerous in Venezuela. After a dictator took over, their plans there were cut short. The kids asked if they could all leave and move to the U.S. where they hoped they’d be safe from political problems.
“It was bad there,” Hugo said of Venezuela. “It was dangerous and we were old. So we came here on the seventh day of the seventh month of 2007.”
They consider themselves blessed that all four of their children live in the same country with them, even though they’re not all in Kokomo. Hugo and Liliana chose to settle here since that’s where their youngest grandchildren were living. They really like the area.
“If I go to the pharmacy at Walmart everybody knows me and knows my name, probably because I talk too much,” Hugo laughed.
He said that it makes him feel good, and Liliana agrees.
“Here I am happy,” Liliana said. “I feel safe and our neighbors are nice. It’s not easy to be an immigrant. Especially here because I don’t speak English well since I don’t go out and work and practice.”
A friend is helping Liliana become a U.S. citizen, something that Hugo accomplished in 2013.
“I am now an American,” he said. “And a Venezuelan and a Chilean. I have three citizenships.”
Hugo and Liliana say it was always their goal to be good role models to their children, even though it’s sometimes hard.
“The life of a marriage is not easy,” Liliana said. “You need to adapt to each other. Without love, problems are big problems. With love, you can fix it.”
Their 55-year-long marriage has spanned two continents, but now, they say they’re where they need to be.
“When you got the right couple and you grow up as a person and family, you accept each other with all the problems and change that happens,” Hugo said. “It’s something so natural for us. There’s not a recipe for that kind of thing.”