National Spelling Bee reflects economic success of immigrants from India
   Date :27-May-2024

National Spelling Bee reflects 
WHEN Balu Natarajan became the first Indian American champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1985, a headline on an ‘Associated Press’ article read, “Immigrants’ son wins National Spelling Bee,” with the first paragraph noting the champion “speaks his parents’ native Indian language at home.” Those details would hardly be newsworthy today after a quarter-century of Indian American spelling champs, most of them the offspring of parents who arrived in the United States on student or work visas. This year’s bee is scheduled to begin on Tuesday at a convention centre outside Washington and, as usual, many of the expected contenders are Indian American, including Shradha Rachamreddy, Aryan Khedkar, Bruhat Soma and Ishika Varipilli. Nearly 70 per cent of Indian-born US residents arrived after 2000, according to census data, and that dovetails with the surge in Indian American spelling bee champions. There were two Indian American Scripps winners before 1999. Of the 34 since, 28 have been Indian American, including three straight years of Indian American co-champions and one year (2019) when eight champions were declared, seven of Indian ancestry.
The experiences of first-generation Indian Americans and their spelling bee champion children illustrate the economic success and cultural impact of the nation’s second-largest immigrant group. As of 2022, there were 3.1 million Indian-born people living in the US, and Indian American households had a median income of USD 1,47,000, more than twice the median income of all US households, according to census data. Indian Americans also were more than twice as likely to have college degrees. Indians received 74 per cent of the H-1B visas for specialised occupations approved in fiscal 2021, and a record total of nearly 269,000 students from India were enrolled at US colleges and universities in 2022-23, according to the Institute of International Education. Those numbers paint a picture of a high-achieving demographic that is well-suited for success in academic competitions. Ganesh Dasari, whose daughter and son each made multiple appearances at the Scripps bee, holds a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Cambridge and was recruited to the US to work for ExxonMobil on an H-1B visa. He quickly obtained a green card. “Me and my wife, we came from a similar background.
We both benefited from having the education ... So we put a lot of emphasis on educating our kids,” Dasari said. “We basically introduced them to anything academic, and a couple of sports, but clearly there was a bias in our thinking that education is a higher priority than sports.” In his 2016 address to Congress, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned “spelling bee champions” among his country’s contributions to the US while that year’s co-champs, Nihar Janga and Jairam Hathwar, watched from the gallery. Even among Indian American spellers, a particular subgroup is overrepresented: families from the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where Telugu is the primary language. Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, is India’s information-technology hub and the region supplies many H-1B visa recipients. “Whenever we go to the spelling bee events, everybody speaks that language,” Dasari said. “We realised there are so many people from the same state.”