And there was our protagonist, ambling along through Reyes Park with unhurried steps, but still never losing that fixa. In our personage’s left hand was a fuchsia fidget-spinner, spinning, and in their right was a burger from which the occasional bite was taken. The Bad Bunny song ‘Bendiciones’ was playing on a cell phone, and the volume was just right – not loud enough to bother anyone, just loud enough to supply good vibes to anyone around who might need them. ‘I’m here,’ the music irrevocably affirmed – any music, always – and the weight of another cell – a stolen iPhone – in our hero’s pocket only served to second that enthusiasm.
‘I don’t wanna choriar, but I gotta,’ our subject had silently repeated before perpetrating the theft, and we who now accompany this adventure believe it. There are still a couple pages to go – not many – before we delve more deeply into our champion’s heart and recognize the genuine sincerity there; shortly, as well, we will learn of the difficult circumstances currently at work upon our star. But first, we must clarify a few things. First, the name.
We are talking here about Buda Soto Rojas, known to most as Buda Flaite, and this includes the people who use the name with respect and esteem, as well as those who in the past have sought to wound and offend. Age: Buda just turned fourteen.
As for a gender, we could propose the definition ‘non-binary’, but the truth is that Buda doesn’t give the matter much thought – wanting, perhaps, to indicate that the mere act of classification is too closed or static for their person to brook. They knew that people referred to them as boy or girl according to what those people wanted to see (thus projecting their own personal virtues, defects or shortcomings), and so they didn’t take it personally. And if anyone ever felt curiosity – and/or disgust – at their singular appearance and asked a direct, ‘What are you?’ Buda simply responded: ‘I’m me,’ adding, ‘your favorite flaite,’ if the situation merited coyness.
As for your humble narrator – who also holds a multiplicity of voices – we will follow Buda Flaite’s example and not complicate life: we will flow between various genders – or none at all – as the case seems to call for, and leave it at that.
Okay then, now that we’ve got those details down, we can turn our eyes back to the scene: Buda Flaite with fuchsia spinner, burger (soy) and stolen cell phone. Some bluish locks floated down to their shoulders, matchless eyes asparkle, and they wore clothes that screamed fixita: Nike, Puma and Guess, from shoes to hair. All genuine articles that weren’t stolen (at least not by Buda’s hand, because they were gifts from their father). It’s true that, these being Buda’s only clothes, they were clearly short a few washes. But this fact did not diminish our person’s fineness or style, and the same could be said of Buda’s face and hands, darkened by piñén: neither dirt nor the cheapest brand of clothing could rob Buda of their regal aura. And so it is no coincidence that, in this precise instant, they should be walking through Reyes Park – given to Chile by the selfsame Spanish royals in honor of the forebears who had financed Columbus’s travels; that is, in honor of the monarchy, and, as such, of themselves. In fact, right there was the España Fountain, which the royal couple had inaugurated on their first visit to the country, though now it was dry and much further removed from the hand of God than it had been back in the nineties. Buda Flaite popped what remained of the burger into their mouth and ran to gaze at the sculptural composition from up close. At one end was the figure of a Chilean huaso peasant with a straw hat and reverential mien. At the other, the king and queen themselves were sculpted in metal: Sofía of Greece and Juan Carlos I – today accused of corruption and self-exiled in the United Arab Emirates – greeted the huaso with a raised hand.
Buda Flaite gamboled inside the fountain (which reeked of piss), then climbed up the central column and ran in circles again. Before definitively leaping free of the monument, Buda put their brilliant wit on display by slapping the King Emeritus with a wate, and sticking an evil rabbit sticker there, on the nape of the kingly neck.
And now that this word wate has appeared, I think it opportune to interrupt this tale – even at the risk of running on or coming off as overly discursive – to insert a few idiomatic clarifications.
It is well known that Chile’s dialect and colloquial language do not enjoy the massive diffusion or popularity of other nations on the continent, such as Mexico (thanks to rancheras, telenovelas like María la del Barrio and the cultural hegemony of El Chavo del Ocho); Colombia (telenovelas again, plus Shakira and, for a few years now, Medellín’s reggaeton artists); or Argentina (legends of rock and soccer, of modeling, politics, the papacy et cetera, et cetera . . . I was going to make a sarcastic remark about how everything sounds better in the deep, swaggering, indifferent tone of the folks across the Andes, but that passive-aggressive logic strikes me now as overly masculine, so I’ll just bare my feelings honestly: Argentina, I love you all!).
As it stands, for a long time (especially in the nineties), the absence of these and other symbolic spaces of power made Chile develop an inferiority complex – a situation that has started to change precisely thanks to personalities like Buda Flaite’s. However, that diffidence did not limit the country’s linguistic variety and richness – quite the opposite: it was thanks to its scarcity of resources that the Chilean language’s great expressive creativity took shape. But the effort to define a couple of terms here is not born of chauvinism, but rather has the goal of – well, I was going to borrow a few theories from the philosophy of language, but since I’m not so good with those concepts I’ll just say: of getting to know the spirit and mind of Buda Flaite through their very own words. What’s more, these are no longer the days of the standard Spanish used to dub Dragon Ball episodes.
So, choriar means to rob. Fixa or fixita is the updated version of ‘to have flow’ or to be de pana (this last phrase imported from the Caribbean to Chile and revamped to mean ‘all good’) in a way that is generic but also specific with regard to clothing: because to transmit that ‘drippin’ good feeling and that confidence, we need the mediation of clothes, hair, makeup, etc. But it’s not just about wearing pricey brands, but rather having the ability to make one’s pinta (look) into an expression of one’s unique attitude and assuredness. As a comparison, perhaps it’s worth adding that estar fixita could be considered the friendlier/happier version of tener pikete. And piñén comes from the Mapudungun language and is translated as ‘grime stuck to the skin’. Doméstico – which we will see further on – is a person who steals from their own social class, and pera, well, that’s ‘fear’.
The semantic content of flaite is more complex, and deserves a couple extra lines. As tends to be the case with all great words, its etymological origin is obscure, but one hypothesis attributes it to Nike Air Flight sneakers: ‘This product was in high demand among young people with scarce resources, who began to be referred to as flaiters. From thence, their epithet flaite,’ says the dictionary of Chilean slang.
It’s true that at first the term was exclusively used as a classist insult, but in recent years it has begun a process of reappropriation, as the hegemonic narrative is subverted by means of the first-person affirmation. That is, flaite people began to feel proud of being flaite. An example of this can be seen in the trap song ‘Flyte’ (2019) by Pablo Chill-E. We won’t copy the song’s lyrics here (since it’s more efficient and aesthetically pleasing for y’all to look it up yourselves on YouTube), but it is important to record here that said video was Buda’s first flirtation with lights and fame: at only twelve years old they had a starring role in the clip, which was filmed in Puente Alto and has now accumulated millions of views.
And finally, wate is a light tap with the open hand, similar to the movement of a whip, on the nape of the neck or head. That was the friendly gesture Buda Flaite gave Juan Carlos – and, to a certain extent, it calls to mind the king’s iconic ‘Por qué no te callas’, the day he told Hugo Chávez to shut up – with the tap and bunny sticker serving to cut the king down to size, and, along with him, the genocidal monarchy and the whole colonial capitalist system. Now just try to tell me this is not a charming character!
Now that we’ve got that all cleared up (y’all can determine for yourselves whether it’s necessary to go back and read from the beginning – we for one recommend it), the path is clear for us to turn to Buda Flaite’s lineage and its direct relationship to their current circumstances. But given that our heroine – the feminine is intentional – has quite an elevated sense of honor and wouldn’t appreciate our justifying any of her behaviors with woeful dramas, we will address the subject in the most succinct and objective way possible, steering clear of the slightest sentimentalism or condescension.
Of Buda’s ancestors there is not much record – and what record exists is full of empty spaces, especially in the line of masculine succession – but it’s pretty likely that they have been poor forever. Buda’s mother, Érika, disappeared shortly after giving birth and recording their name (the reasons for her peculiar choice vanishing along with her, though we suppose she must have achieved enlightenment at merely seeing Buda’s eyes open).
Since Buda’s father, Chalo, had been recently encanado (‘deprived of freedom in prison’), Buda was left in the care of some neighbors of Érika’s. Said neighbors were known narco-traffickers in the northern sector of the city, which was why Buda’s maternal grandmother, María, feared it would be very difficult to ask them to hand the baby over to her. And it was. But after a couple of months, the neighbors, who were very taken with the child (enchanted by Buda’s almond-shaped brown eyes and the power of granting the baby a better economic future), acquiesced to the grandmother’s pleas.
María and Buda became great chums, and remained so until the lady passed away – it was from her that Buda inherited their taste for tangos, tragaperras (gambling machines in neighborhood bodegas) and courtroom shows like Caso Cerrado (Case Closed), among other profound personality traits. Buda, then six years old, went to live with their paternal grandmother – Chalo was still in jail. That old lady turned out to be pretty rude – not to say she lacked the most basic sense of compassion – and soon turned Buda over to the National Child Welfare Service (Sename), which in turn sent – sentenced – them to a home called Galvarino del Bosque.
More than thirty children shared the house under the care of a couple of assistants – ‘mommies’ and ‘daddies’, as the kids called them. Buda survived – because ‘lived’ would be an exaggeration – six years there. They ran away the day some of their fellow inmates swallowed ground glass to keep one of the ‘daddies’ from ever sexually abusing them again. And the truth is that Buda’s decision to flee didn’t stem so much from the possibility of rape as it did from the the prospect of having to choke down glass too, or something worse.
From the ages of twelve to fourteen, Buda Flaite bounced around between their father’s house in Puente Alto (finally, Chalo was free!); the family of their half-sister Camila in Quilicura (sixteen years old and she already had a two-year-old); the various and not very elegant places where their half-brother Mauricio tended to spend the night (one anguished day, high on pasta base [a cheap drug made from cocaine paste, similar to crack], Mauricio stole the laptop the government had awarded Buda for good grades); and the comfortable apartment where their maternal aunt Isabel (extremely sensitive to Buda’s situation, though not very practical) lived in the city center.
For its part, Sename experienced its own crises and changes. Following reports that 1,670 children in various centers had died over the past decade, and after the subsequent 2019 citizen uprising, the governmental organization came to an end. By 2022, when Buda Flaite was detained for a trivial theft in a transnational supermarket – shoplifted items included a cheap shampoo, two deodorants and a couple Oreo cookies – the Childhood Protection Service (Sepin) already existed.
Inspired by Finnish centers, these homes did have appropriate personnel and facilities. Buda was left open-mouthed at the sight of the spacious and comfortable room they would share with only two other teenagers, a room that offered matching laptops, tablets and LED screens, and was painted a lavender color as warm as it was versatile. They were also surprised by how affectionate and beautiful these new caretakers were – their eyes, Buda thought, really did hold a hint of respect and consideration toward their person – and also by the fact that the psychologist didn’t visit him only to prescribe pills. In fact, she didn’t prescribe any, and instead proposed EMDR trauma therapy and a variety of lessons (piano, manual ceramics and swimming), all given at the same home.
In sum, all the place needed was a roller coaster and a McDonald’s to make it the fantasy of any child on earth. But for some strange reason, Buda couldn’t quite get used to this novel prospect. He felt uncomfortable – the masculine is intentional – even more uncomfortable, out of sorts, and repressed than at Galvarino del Bosque. And he wasn’t the only one – Jesú, his best friend from their Sename days, felt something similar. And so it was that after much consideration the two of them decided that the only solution was to run away again. Of course, this time it didn’t have to be in secret and over the rooftop; Sepin only asked them to fill out a short request form and they could go right out the front door. Though this measure was eminently reasonable, a mysterious and irresistible need for danger led the pair to again flee out the window, with the result that Jesú crashed noisily down and twisted her ankle. Perhaps it was fate that Buda should have to depart without company, and that after macheteando (begging) a whole morning without results, they would come up with the idea of stealing (without really wanting to), of breaking a car window (no need to intimidate anyone) and extracting bills from a handbag resting candidly on the passenger seat (after first taking the precaution of heading up to the posh neighborhood so as not to be a doméstico), plus the phone, and – though the Royal Academy has Spanishized the term, Chile continues to prefer the French – the ID carnet.