An Open Letter to Indian-American Kids

Dear Indian-American Kids:

I know you’re busy with your school work and other important stuff, but there’s something important I’d like to say to you: Please stop winning the National Spelling Bee!

Yes, you heard me right. Back away from the unabridged dictionary, tear up the list of 10-syllable words your mom printed out for you, delete the soundtrack of “Akeelah and the Bee” from your iPod.

We know you’re good at spelling. You’ve already proven it. You’ve won five consecutive National Spelling Bees – and 10 of the last 14. If the Los Angeles Lakers merged with the Miami Heat, they wouldn’t win as many titles as you. You’re so dominant that the Las Vegas oddsmakers have made you 2-1 favorites to win the next Spelling Bee, better odds than they’ve set for Aishwarya Rai to get a tummy tuck.

We know you’re dedicated and disciplined. You’ve already proven it. While other kids have been going to basketball camp or soccer camp in the summer, you’ve been going to spelling camp. While other kids are horsing around in the showers before dinner, embarrassing each other with not-so-polite comparisons, you’ve been making comparisons that would do your parents proud: “My word is bigger than your word.”

We know you’re eager to please your parents. You’ve already proven it. You didn’t complain when your mom handed you that list of 10-syllable words or your dad shook his head vigorously and said, “Only 10 syllables? You need to start giving her 12-syllable words – she’s in kindergarten now.”

Yes, you’ve already proven enough, so why not give some other kids a chance to win the National Spelling Bee? The other kids have also studied thousands of words, but when they reach the final round of the spelling bee and see you looking so confident – as though you’ve been on ESPN hundreds of times – they lose their cool. They say to themselves, “Oh no, those kids are Indian-Americans. They must have been to spelling camp!”

It’s like facing Rafael Nadal in the final of the French Open. Sure, you might win a few games, but then you look across the net and see the seven-time champion pumping his fist and think to yourself, “Well, at least I got this far.”

That’s what happened to Gifton Wright, the boy from Kingston, Jamaica, who finished fourth this year. We knew there would be a big celebration in Jamaica if he won, but his valiant effort fell short, giving us the same newspaper headline in India as last year: “Ho-hum. Another Indian-American wins the Spelling Bee.”

Even worse than that, we had to hear the same old joke again. Several people tweeted it, thinking they were being original: “Snigdha Nandipati won the National Spelling Bee by spelling her own name! LOL! Someone put me on Comedy Central.”

But that’s not why I want you to stop winning the National Spelling Bee. I want you to stop because you’re putting too much pressure on all the Indian-American kids who don’t want to spend half their weekends studying words and the other half being tested on them. Take my 10-year-old daughter, Lekha, for example. She’s a good student who loves to read books and play the piano, but isn’t that interested in spelling. Every year, when the National Spelling Bee is being televised — the only time my wife ever asks if we have ESPN on our cable – Lekha has to endure comments such as, “If they can do it, so can you,” “Look how proud her parents look” and “It’s my mistake – I should have started spelling words to you when you were in my womb.”

So here’s my request again: Please stop winning the National Spelling Bee! I know it won’t be easy, but with a little effort, I’m sure you can do it.

See you at Geography Camp!

Photo by Erin M.
If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

Comments

  1. Nice! I also wish these kids would start dressing themselves and not like their father picked out their clothes. Sorry to sound superficial, but if you’re planning to win and be front news on all media outlets, dress like a celeb you want to be!

    • Yes, indeed. Earn your money and dress yourself. As long as you are under your parents roof, you have to live by their rules.

  2. Raji Muthukrishnan says:

    :). Not till my granddaughter gets a chance to compete!

  3. Funny piece and good point. I was in a Regional Spelling Bee in 1985 and I lost on purpose and came in 2nd because I had a premonition of the future success of Indian kids and didn’t want to start the pressure on Indian kids before it was time. In reality, I screwed up so I didn’t get to go to Washington DC but I didn’t even study that hard and the only pressure I got from my parents was to stop playing video games on the Commodore 64 and start studying a few hours every few days.

  4. Thank God. Though these kids make history, were not to be seen in the History Bee.

  5. Nothing wrong with winning or being #1. They make us proud.

  6. Nice. This letter needs to be addressed to parents. Indian parents, take it easy when it comes to your child. Allow them to bloom and realize their unique strengths. ..

  7. Talented children with capabilities developed through sheer hard work need to be rewarded.
    Leave it to the child – if he/she is interested, encourage her!

  8. loved the non stop fun in your book…Congrats! Keep writing

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