For the first time in more than 50 years, two young wordsmiths were declared co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. However, some on social media seemed more preoccupied with their heritage than their way with words.
Sriram Hathwar, 14, of Painted Post, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe, 13, of Fort Worth, Tex., shared the win after almost exhausting the 25 designated words in the final round.
Both boys are Indian American. In fact, the past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999, the Associated Press reported.
The fact was seemingly too much for some on social media — who tweeted, for example, “Where are our American kids?”
wow that blows the spelling bee ends with a tie thats so friggin un-American no wonder the kids that won it are Indian
— Chris Uhl Jr. (@the_best_uhl_c) May 30, 2014
Nothing more American than a good spelling bee.. Oh wait all the Caucasians are eliminated — Cale Pieczynski (@CalePie) May 30, 2014
Why did the tweets hit me hard? I was a bee kid—’91, lost on “rimur.” And I want those kids never to be asked, “Where are you really from?”
— Jeff Chu (@jeffchu) May 30, 2014
There’s more where those came from.
Sriram is from Painted Post, a village in Steuben County, N.Y. He’s an eighth-grader at Corning’s Alternative School for Math and Science. He was the only one with a perfect score from written tests and one of the few contestants who did not write out words on his hand or arm before spelling them. He devoured words like “quatrefoil” and “favus.”
“It’s almost like GPS, like, see the word in my head. I just envision it,” he told Reuters.
Ansun is from Euless, a suburb outside Fort Worth, where he is a student at Bethesda Christian School. He plays piano, guitar and bassoon. He likes chess, programming robots and volunteering in nursing homes. And he almost laughed as he spelled his first word “laulau” correctly during the semifinals of the spelling bee. “Oh laulau!” he said.
Last year’s winner, Arvind Mahankali, was the sixth Indian American in a row to win the bee. And of this year’s 281 spellers, almost a quarter had names pointing to South Asian origins, Reuters reported. But past bee champs are of a variety of origins.
“I don’t think there’s any secret or anything innate in Indian kids winning spelling bees. I don’t think there’s a spelling gene,” said Nupur Lala, who started the South Asian streak in 1999, according to Reuters. She starred in the documentary “Spellbound.”
Scripps National Spelling Bee does not note ethnicities in its speller statistics.
Others on social media argued race has nothing do with where these spellers were born.
@ezraklein ….so according to these geniuses, only Caucasians are “American” when it comes to the spelling bee?
— ∞ Nicole Forbes ∞ (@livehappy8) May 30, 2014
Just because the face on the screen isn’t white, it doesn’t make the #spellingbee finalists any less American.
— Rebecca Hong (@FYSProf) May 30, 2014