Indian-American spellers are kings and queens of the bees, reports the New York Times.
For many American contestants, the most uncommon words at last week’s national spelling bee were not appoggiatura and onychophagy, but the names of the top four finishers: Anurag Kashyap, Aliya Deri, Samir Patel and Rajiv Tarigopula. All were of Indian ancestry.
Five of the last seven winners have come from Indian immigrant families. Though Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the population, 11 percent of this year’s national bee contestants were of Indian ancestry. The tradition started 20 years ago with the first Indo-American winner.
By 1993, the North South Foundation, based outside of Chicago and devoted to making sure Indians here do as well in English as in math, set up a parallel universe of spelling bees. Now 60 chapters around the country hold such contests, according to its founder, Ratnam Chitturi.
They become a minor-league training ground for the major league 80-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee, which was started by The Louisville Courier-Journal as a way to promote “general interest among pupils in a dull subject.”
The enthusiasm has spread. There are now chat rooms and blogs where Indians discuss spelling. Stories about the contests are featured prominently in community newspapers.
Students from immigrant families also do very well in the Intel Science Talent Search and the National Geography Bee. They try harder.