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A long look back

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Suzanna Montoya is strong-willed, tough-talking, wise … and loving. She is a symbol of mid-20th century female empowerment before the feminist movement came into play.

Susanna is the protagonist in Irene I. Blea’s novel “Beneath the Super Moon.”

One aspect of Suzanna’s character “is based on the story of my aunt on my father’s side. I wanted to capture the (New Mexico Hispanic) tradition of marrying younger women to older men,” Blea said in a phone interview. ”

In the novel, Suzanna reflects on her arranged marriage to the much older Felipe. She bore him two sons, Celestino and Efrán, but she left him and the boys because Felipe was abusive. Felipe divorced Suzanna, who was forced to give up her visitation rights with her children.

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Over the years, Suzanna talks about supporting herself working in a bar.

And in doing so, she had to fend off derision from her ex about being a loose woman (una mujer suelta). But her best friend Beatriz endorsed Suzanna’s life as a “liberated” adult.

Irene I. Blea

Suzanna may have been estranged from her sons, but she stays in touch with a granddaughter and niece. For them, Suzanna becomes the voice of wisdom, advising them to stand up for themselves, to get a college education at the University of New Mexico, to be politically active.

It’s all about Suzanna’s belief that younger generations of Hispanic women should be whatever they want to be, despite what parents or grandparents might say.

Suzanna is the lens through which readers learn about the her family’s relationships as well as learn about New Mexico’s Hispanic culture and the rising influence of the Chicano movement. The novel covers the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s.

Purposely unstated is the geographical setting of the third volume, but the author notes that Suzanna lives alone in a small house in a community between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Blea wants readers to look at the protagonist’s “state of being.”

“Beneath the Super Moon” is the final volume in a trilogy. The first volume, “Suzanna” (2010), is set in northern New Mexico, where the author’s family is from. Book 2, “Poor People’s Flowers,” (2014) is set in Pueblo, Colo.

“In Book 2, I wanted to document women migrating. Usually they were doing so because they were running away from something, as Suzanna does,” said Blea, an Albuquerque resident.

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“The back story is how people migrated out of New Mexico, to Colorado, Wyoming and some into California and Arizona. Part of what I’m doing is documenting the history of Spanish-speaking people in New Mexico.”

Taken together the three books cover the period from 1920 to 1965.

Blea’s deft storytelling in “Beneath the Super Moon” is unfortunately bruised by a number of editing miscues, especially misspellings.

Blea wrote the book “Daughters of the West Mesa,” an investigation into the infamous series of unsolved crimes – the young women murdered and dumped on Albuquerque’s West Mesa.

She is also a writer of radical feminist poetry and the author of eight sociology textbooks on race and gender relations.

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