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June 02, 2005

The Desi Trifecta in the Spelling Bee

The 78th Annual spelling Bee competition finished today and the top 3 finishers were:

  1. Anurag Kashyap
  2. Aliya Deri
  3. Samir Patel

A desi trifecta. Its fair to say that South Asians usually don't set the field on fire with their athletic exploits but they definitely seem to know how to do well in Spelling Bee.  Amar Shah of ESPN has a great article on the Indian American phenomenon in Spelling Bee.  Some of the stats are impressive:

Although representing less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, Indian-Americans made up around 15 percent of last year's participants. This year's spelling bee continued the trend, as 31 competitors of Indian origin (according to rediff.com, an Indian news portal) vied for the coveted title of the nation's best speller. Seven of the 17 contestants from Texas were Indian-American, and Puerto Rico's lone representative was none other than Arun.

While its easy to look at this year's results as a coincidental outcome for Indian-Americans, I actually look at the results and remain in awe of America.  For the people shouting from the rooftops on how America is declining, how China and India are gaining on us, how our best days are over, blah, blah, blah .  . . all I have to say is that can you think of one other country in the world where this could happen.  Where a group of kids born to immigrant parents come to a new land and have enough opportunities (and also drive and hard work) to learn a new language and be the top 3 finishers in the national spelling contest.  Nada, nyet, not one.  This is what makes America tick.  Our ability to welcome and absorb people of all hues into our melting pot.  Until that phenomenon stops, my money will always be on America.

Update 1: The NYtimes also has a post on the phenomenon of Indian-Americans and the spelling bee . . . my only quibble on the article is that it makes it out like Indian-Americans follow the spelling bee like a cult.  The reality is that this community values academics very highly (and in the same token devalues athletics and worships bollywood) so coverage of any academic achievement is strong.  The ethnic media just the last few weeks covered the National Geographic Bee (where an Indian-American kid came in second) as well as the Intel Science Talent winners. 

Posted by Venky Ganesan at 10:45 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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