Yam is not sweet potato. Well, at least the real yam isn’t.
I’m an immigrant, and like me, real yams came from tropical regions outside the US (like Asia and Africa). Since I’m vegetarian, yam is the perfect substitute for bacon in “BLT.”
My first name is not a common Indonesian name, and I do get mistaken for Russian or Japanese a lot when someone hears my first name. My parents had a close friend named Yusca (with a “c”) and he was smart and resourceful and successful (he had his own advertising agency), so they decided to name me after him, but with a “k” instead. Whenever people ask the origin of my name, I’d tell them this story and always add how sorry I am for disappointing my parents.
Lutfi is an Arabic boy’s name that means “gentle” and “kind.” Ha. I used to hate my middle name until I learned my mother was the one who gave it to me.
On a side note, I also used to hate my first name, because it’s such an uncommon name (totally detrimental to the idea of fitting in) and I’d always be called last. But when I was 11 years old and in Bournemouth, England for a homestay program, a gorgeous staff member did a roll-call as we were boarding the bus. He paused after calling my name, looked at me, and said, “That’s a really great name.”
My original surname came from my dad’s side of the family. It’s Ambonese. But my name on all official documents is only “Yuska Lutfi.” Apparently, Indonesians my age (and also my brother who was born five years earlier) have the same issue because the government at that time wanted all of us to just be “Indonesians” and drop our “ethnic” last names. I have the suspicion the government targeted Chinese Indonesians because it didn’t want them to keep using their “foreign-sounding” last names, but didn’t want to sound too racist. And here we are.
Click here for Yuska’s debut nonfiction book: Gentlemen Prefer Asians: Tales of Gay Indonesians and Green Card Marriages.