Why are there so Many Asian American Spelling Bee Champions?

Congratulations to 14-year old Sukanya Roy, this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee champion! Sukanya won the national competition by spelling the word “cymotrichous,” which means someone who has wavy hair; you could also use this in a sentence, one such as “three and a half of the top five spelling bee finalists are Asian American, kids who do not have cymotrichous qualities.”

In an article for ESPN (!), 1999 Champion Nupur Lala insists that for most Indian American competitors, the drive to enter comes from the child with support from parents.  That said, come on now: she won the 1999 National Spelling Bee, was the subject of the documentary Spellbound and is the poster child for the word “logorrhea.”  The commentary from a former Spelling Bee Champion on this message board feels a bit more accurate:

“The spelling bee champs (I was one, though on a smaller scale) are definitely the product of their parents’ behavior. They’re not being pushed into competition, though; they’re being pushed to excel. If there was a tradition of kids standing out on the street spelling difficult words for passers-by, they’d do just as well as that.”

Not to mention the fact that the MetLife South Asian Spelling Bee exists, an organization where the tagline proudly states to “give [your South Asian or Desi child] the opportunity to test their skills on National Television.” Certainly, a more honorable way than some other Asian Americans that come to mind. But what do you think, 8Asians readers — why are there so many Asian American kids entering the spelling bee? Does the motivation to compete come from the kids themselves, or are there a horde of tiger moms making their kids write out the word “otorhinolaryngological” over and over again?

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About Ernie

I'm the creator of 8 Asians and one of the editors. While I'm a regular blogger to the site as well, think of my role as Barbara Walters on "The View," except without the weird white hair. During the day, I'm a Developer for a major Internet company and live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I've also been writing in my blog, littleyellowdifferent.com, for seven years.
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