Unprecedented run of success by Indian American kids in winning a series of intelligence championships like Spelling Bee, National Geographic Bee etc., on-the-trot-from 2008 to 2015 has spurred much talks. Top honors each year has evoked mixed responses from diverse communities bordering from perplexity to inscrutability and more-often-than-not, reprehensible racism.
Considering the assorted gamut of ripostes, it definitely calls for a review of the underlying factors that have catapulted these kids to prevail at the coveted Spelling Bee & other contests. Most importantly, the utter dominance by Indian-origin teenagers in a contest that is unmistakably American has brought into focus an issue: What exactly defines Americanism?
Winning Consecutively for Eight Years is Indisputably Exemplary
It was Balu Natarajan who blazed a trail by winning the Spelling Bee competition in 1985 for the first time as an American-Indian. Next to follow was Rageshree Ramachandran, a practicing gastrointestinal pathologist, who wrested the championship in 1988. However, it was Nupur Lala who set the precedent for the winning spree when she won the title in 1999. For the record, American Indians, “desis” (jargon used for typifying South Asians) to be more precise, have been feted with the title 15 times since 1999. In the running year, Vanya Shivshankar and Gokul Venkatachalam have been adjudged as joint-winners, both desis. Another remarkable feature of 2015’s contestation is that out of the final 7 spellers, six were South Asians. That these teenagers continue to hold sway has yet again brought the matter in focus as to what is it that makes these kids excel in spelling. A dyed-in-the-wool American would be predisposed to infer that its genetics -either you have it or you don’t. However, a meticulous analysis of their supremacy in spelling (and now this hegemony is extending to National Geographic Bee and STEM contests) reveals a combination of factors.
The Winning Recipe: A Judicious Blend of Upbringing, Diligence and Mettle
There are numerous factors at play which work in concert leading to the spellbinding success of desis. For instance, the migration of this specific racial community to US has played a pivotal role in grooming the future generations in consonance with the times. The South Asians, since the sixties of the last cent have migrated in droves in order to fulfil the demand for white-collar jobs. Once they received permanent residency status, they brought along their immediate family members. They passed on their intrinsic and acquired values to their subsequent generations, including their English communication skills. Their exceptional command over the English language gave them a competitive advantage over their counterparts from other nations. The elder generation have inculcated in their progenies the indispensability of academic excellence.
Then again, the robust bonding amongst family members coupled with extensive community networking has not only provided economic opportunities but social support as well. The stupendous success of Indian American youngsters has spawned numerous spelling contests, the ‘South Asian Spelling Bee’ and the North South Foundation, being the most noteworthy ones. These intra and intercommunity leagues serve as breeding grounds as well as launching platforms for graduating to the highest level of competition. Furthermore, the parents of such kids are extraordinarily dedicated when it comes to investing time, money, and effort for furthering their education along with extracurricular activities. Additionally, these children hail from financially-stable families where one of the spouses can afford to stay back at home and impart the requisite mentoring. Finally, the contestants persevere for months on end, mugging up as many words as possible where parents and/or paid tutors assisted them in developing innovative learning techniques.
So, the astounding achievements of Indian American children in National Spelling Bee can be attributed to a multiplicity of factors working in tandem. It certainly wouldn’t be out of place to state that their awe-inspiring success has raised the bar for the competition.