All hail – yet – another Indian-American, 12 year-old Ananya Vina, wins 2017 Scripps Spelling Bee! – Tola Adenle


12-year-old Ananya Vinay spells 'marocain' to win the US National Spelling Bee  Photo Credit:  Times of India

Ananya Vinay and her family [Photo Credit: Reuters]

As a fan of the annual National Geographic Scripps Spelling Bee Competition, my heart, despite the fact that I would not have wagered in her favor for a couple of reasons, was always with home-schooled Edith Fuller, the little Oklahoman girl. A sure contender for a not too-distant future win, had age at her disadvantage at a mere 6 years old. Edith, who had qualified at five, also had quite a few of the perennial Indian-American kids among the 290 who made it to Washington, D.C., waiting in the wings.

The Indian-American kids are so formidable that while their tons of admirers are not only Indian-Americans, non-American Indians in America and fans of the competition which can be seen on the sports cable channel, ESPN every year, the racist ranks in America have found a cause to rail and rally against at this time of the year.  Their sense of entitlement have led to racist rants on social media, including many of them calling out to organizers to limit the competition to “Americans only”; “real Americans need to win”; “#tiredofIndians”…” I wonder where a girl born and raised in California is from if not the United States of America.

In a post I wrote on the 2011 winner, I continued a series I started with Nigerian-American kids who perform well enough in high schools to earn admissions to coveted colleges/universities. You can check out those essays by using the search box here: [Why do immigrant kids perform well in America.

One of the 2011 essays was “Why do immigrant kids perform so well in America: Indian-Americans and the Annual Scipps Spelling …; here are two paragraphs from that essay:


How do Indian-Americans do it?  How have they come to dominate what was once a nearly lilly-white affair?  Why does a university in Virginia send scouts to an Indian university every year to get the first shot at selecting graduates to come to America for studies?  Even President Obama has consistently warned that the USA must strengthen its educational system because India, like China, must be taken seriously as India has “some very talented people.”

Asians kids, especially Chinese and Indians, are a disciplined lot and, perhaps unlike other major immigrant groups, the kids tend to listen more to their parents and respect authority; they accept their cultural practices even when they may not subscribe to certain aspects.  They stay focused and ways of life that white kids would rebel against are accepted by them because they see their parents’ efforts as being in their interests.  I remember when Michael Chang, the tennis player first started out in the 80s and his mom and brother were his handlers; it was before Richard and Oracene (Venus and Serena’s parents) showed the tennis world kids can be coached and managed by parents who learn the game rules, coupled with loving care.  There were many criticisms of the Changs:  how will Michael date with his mother always around him …  and other such culture-insensitive questions.

Here are the formidable records that Indian-American kids have accumulated at the annual competition. Rather than hate, one would think others – parents and non-parents – would look for ways to get their kids prepared for this great competition. Many kids make multiple appearances before finally being the last kid standing, the reason I feel certain that Little Edith will return after piling on a few more years.

Digest these facts: when Ananya Vinay won the $40,000 prize this week, she becomes the 13th CONSECUTIVE INDIAN-AMERICAN KID to lift the prestigious trophy; from 1999 to 2012 a period of 14 years, ten Indian-American kids lifted the trophy and in 2014, Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe shared the prize. News reports show that contestants of Indian or South Asian descent often count up to one-fifth of the 200-Plus kids at the Washington, D.C. National level stage, and are reportedly more than a third of the final fifty!

The kids, as records show, simply keep on going back. In response to the public debate about how Indian-American kids have completely dominated the competition over many years, the Washington Post refers to a study by Indian-American Northwestern University Anthropology researcher, Shalini Shankar’s contention:

“… that immigrants from India, who are the parents and grandparents of today’s spellers, are typically well-educated professionals and driven to succeed. She is amused by bee watchers who suggest that a “spelling gene” might explain the domination by Indian Americans.

“You don’t see lots of spelling bee winners who are the children of assembly line workers or cabdrivers, even if they’re South Asian,” she said. “You see children of doctors, you see children of engineers.”

The success of Indian Americans has built on itself. A milestone is the 2002 documentary, “Spellbound,” that followed eight spellers on their path to the 1999 national bee and culminates with Nupur Lala’s exultant victory.

“A lot of the spellers I interviewed said that was the moment they realized, ‘We could do this,’ ” Shankar said. “So, if you count it down from when ‘Spellbound’ came out, it’s about a five- or six-year arc until they really started dominating. The reach of that movie has been much farther than people realized.”


Check out the WaPo essay and see how Indian-American and other South Asian-Americans are getting leg-up through “the creation of so-called ‘minor league’ spelling bees run by and for Americans of South Asian descent. The two most prominent — the North South Foundation Spelling Bee and the South Asian Spelling Bee — have become proving grounds for a generation of Indian American children who have set their sights on the Scripps national title.”

Rather than spewing out hate on social media at Tiger Mom-types who help their kids be their best, or Indian-American kids who have discovered how to succeed and dominate Engineering courses in American Us along with Chinese, why can’t other parents throw away their “modern” playbook on parenting which I believe is partly at the root of underachieving white-American kids. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy watching the tournament every year.

In closing, I wish to refer to the earliest in this series: Why do immigrant kids perform well in America: the Nigerian Example (2).

Here are excerpts from the second instalment on June 13, 2011:

The Nigerian therefore arrives in America – or is the child of parents who arrived in America on this latter-day “Mayflower” journey and races through school and college (university) which he knows is the first step to success.  Except, perhaps in the last decade with tons of stolen cash available to politicians and top civil servants, most Nigerian students in America always had to work jobs – sometimes multiple – to put themselves through college. My husband and I did.  Yet, they’ve been turning out success stories year after year. I do not think any of those featured here is an offspring of Nigerian looters which makes their achievements all the more cheery news.

In six years, Nigeria has had three MacArthur ‘Genius’ awardees!  Not bad for a single country.  I’ve included Chimamanda Adichie who does not really belong in this essay but the MacArthur Fellowship is an American foundation that gifts $500,000 “no strings attached” to worthy recipients which she won three years ago.  The two other recipients are Funmi Olopade (nee Falusi) for her pioneering cancer research work at the University of Chicago; Funmi donated generously of hers to the University of Ibadan, her alma mater and the Obafemi Awolowo University for cancer research.  John Dabiri, a 30-year old biophysicist and Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering with the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) received his award last year to enable him “reflect, create and explore”.  Funmi’s awards was in 2005.  Some years ago after her award, she had a sort of home-coming lecture at which I was present at the UCH, Ibadan to which she was accompanied by her husband (also a medical professor in Chicago with UI roots) as well as other colleagues from the University of Chicago.  Her pioneering work on African-American women which has extended to include sample area in Nigeria, was the subject.  Olopade, is also a past recipient of the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award.

One of the commentaries on the essay calls for sharing here:

Morolayo Says:
August 18, 2011 at 3:13 am e

Love this post, but what about the Ewedemi Brother who did his PHD in Chemical Engineering at Stanford and his only sibling who did her undergraduate at Yale and is now a doctor in Texas? Or the four sisters from Minnesota that all attended Harvard? Or the Nigerian twins that both attended Harvard and got what was a perfect score at the time, 1600 on their SAT’s? There are tens of thousands of these Nigerian overachievers. . . not only academically, but the 19 year-old boy that finished college in 3 years and got drafted in the NFL at age 19? Notice in the last Superbowl, three players had charities and two of the football players were Nigerians? We have both brains and brawn, some of us have siblings that play in the NFL, NBA and yes even the NHL (those of us that made it to Canada) and also have siblings at the Ivy League. What we’ve benefited from in Nigeria is a lack of direct experience in the last two hundred years with slavery, neither as slave owners or slaves and we know the sky is the limit for everyone, regardlless of race, sex or natural origin. It puts us in a serious advantage to Americans who hold on to their “stereotypes.” for their existence. Why can most caucasian Europeans breakdance and every white Americans can barely do the two steps? They’ve limited themselves to stereotypes.


Saturday, June 3, 2017. 10.00 a.m. [GMT]



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