Dr. Irene Isobel Blea is a native of the northern New Mexico Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Her maternal family is rooted in the indigenous pueblo of Taos. Her ancestral family is among the first European settlers of North America. At the time of her birth, Colfax County had the second poorest population in the U.S. Displaced from New Mexico by a 20-year drought, the Blea family moved to Pueblo, Colorado. Irene, along with her brothers and sisters, was educated in School District 60, where she entered an English speaking school speaking Spanish. Her father, now deceased, retired from being a steelworker. Her mother is a successful homemaker and matriarch. Her native land, customs, and family are driving forces in Irene's work.
Blea graduated from Central in 1965. Her undergraduate degrees are from the University of Southern Colorado, in Pueblo. Her PhD. is from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1980. She is one of the most frequently published Mexican American (Chicana) scholars in the U.S. and is well recognized for her literary work as well as for her academic work and community service. Works in progress include: Maria Josefa Jaramillo: Spanish Frontier Wife of Kit Carson a social-historical documentary. Suzanna, a historical novel trilogy about a twelve year-old New Mexico girl "married off" to a forty year-old man. Blea is working on her autobiography, Super Chicana: From Welfare to PhD, and World Traveler. Another work includes When the Body, the Mind and the Spirit Hurt, an autobiographical self-help text rendering what she learned from becoming disabled.
Blea has published eight textbooks, three chapbooks of poetry and a play, has presented her work and read her poetry nationally and internationally, and won several literary awards. Some include: First place in The Denver Poetry Classic, where she was featured on a program with Allen Ginsberg and Andy Clausen. In 1986 she won First Place in the Martin Luther King Jr. Literary Awards for a short story entitled The Day I Discovered I Was Mexican. Her play is entitled Building the Doll House. Her next chapbooks are I Saw The Rainbow Touch The Ground, which was introduced in Beijing and Huairou, China and Mother Earth Poems.
Irene Blea's books have been adapted for university classroom use across the United States. Two of her textbooks, Toward a Chicano Social Science and La Chicana, have been awarded "Classic" textbook ratings in her field of Sociology. They have served as reference texts in Spain, Germany, the Phillipines and Mexico. The author has traveled extensively, and has presented her work in China, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain, Germany, France and Israel.
Blea is among the founders of Chicano Studies in the mid 60's, and its national association NACS (NACCS), 1972. She was the first female National Chairperson of the National Association of Chicano Studies in 1979, and served as the Rocky Mountain representative to that organization many times. Dr. Blea retired as Full Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Chicano Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She has directed the Division of Hispanic Student Services at the University of New Mexico and chaired the Department of Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State College, Denver.
Her past work experiences include being secretary for the Civil Rights Commission in Pueblo, a psychiatric nurse on the wards of a mental hospital, and a community mental health therapist. She has conducted research in race and gender relations for thirty years, and is well respected in her work in how to counteract and heal from the effects of prejudice and discrimination.