Chiple Chronicles: A local teacher's love for students and his handmade gifts

"Monito" doll

The chiples tells the story of why a lifelong El Paso educator has dedicated thousands of hours and dollars to making ceramic figurines by hand.

Abe Ramirez has spent much of his spare time over the last 30 years, making the figurines he affectionately calls monitos, only to give them to students who he believes have overcome challenges to succeed as student-athletes and school leaders.

Most of these students, over the years, have come be known as the chiples, which, in Spanish, means spoiled ones. But in contrast to the nickname, more than half of the students who received these tokens over the years came from schools in areas known for financial hardship.

It's time for full disclosure: I myself was a chiple at Ysleta High School until I graduated in 1984. My monito stayed with me through my college years at UTEP. Then, I began to relocate in order to pursue a career in journalism. Somewhere between El Paso and Dallas, and back to El Paso and then back to Dallas and then on to Albuquerque and then finally back home to El Paso, my monito couldn't keep up. To be honest, I am pretty sure that, at some point in the moving, my monito was placed in a box only to be left there. I don't really know what happened to that adorable handmade figurine with iits sweet smile and honey colored eyes and hair.

When I moved home, it came to my attention via Facebook that "El Mister" was still giving away the figurines. I felt nostalgic. Seeing the round, chubby, customized faces made me remember that, a long time ago, a person of authority in my school thought enough of me to paint something just for me. At the moment I remember, it was poetic and felt pride. It sang to my heart. As an adult, I now realize the monito carries a unique and beautiful sentiment to every student who ever received one.

So, long live my monito, wherever she may be. And thank you, Mr. Ramirez, for investing your time and your heart in so many young El Pasoans so they could have a small token to remind them that, as they head out into the world from high school, someone believes in them. In that way, you made us all rich, Mr. Ramirez. In that way, we truly are -- the chiples.

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