My Theory On Why Indian Americans Excel At Spelling Bees

Spell Time

The pattern has become all too familiar. This time of the year, every year, there's a new spelling bee champion. Invariably, he/she is Indian American. Commentary abounds on the preponderance of desis in this event. Someone points out that most of the finalists are also Indian American. Theories like first generation immigrant drive and strong family values are trotted out.

A typical example:

Dhingra is heading up an exhibition at the Smithsonian next year on Indian-Americans that will try to explain the phenomenon. He says spelling bees offer a kind of perfect mix of everything that resonates deeply with Indian-Americans: the competition; the focus on academic achievement; the discipline it takes; and the way a tightknit family can team up to train together.

Me? I think there's a simpler explanation. You see, us desis are born with an innate advantage. As kids, one of the first things we have to learn is how to write our names in English. That's one of the basic requirements of entry into a private kindergarten school, for example. I don't know about you but I think learning to spell a name like Ranjana Kuruppuarachchi, just to pull something out of thin air, would be excellent preparation for xanthosis, vivisepulture or succedaneum five or six years down the line.

Ah, but what about those parents that have already anglicized our names in anticipation? Well, at some point early on, we have to spell their names too. And our grandparents, uncles and aunties. There's just no getting away from it. My two rupees. Told you it was simple!

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- June 2, 2012 10:01 PM // Diaspora