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Two Indian American students co-winners of National Spelling Bee


Washington: Two Indian American students have jointly won the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition.

Vanya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of Chesterfield, Missouri, were declared co-champions on Thursday night, CNN reported.

Vanya correctly spelt ” scherenschnitte” and Gokul did likewise with “nunatak”.

In this year’s national championship, 285 spellers competed for the title.

Vanya, an eighth grader at California Trail Middle School, has competed in the national bee four other times. Last year, she tied for 13th place.

Her older sister, Kavya, was the 2009 National Spelling Bee champion.

“This is a dream come true. I can’t believe I’m up here. I’ve wanted this for such a long time,” she said, adding “I’m dedicating this to my grandma, because she passed away in October of 2013, and all she really wanted was her grandkids to do so well, and I hope I make her happy with this.”

Gokul, an eighth grader at Parkway West School, came in third place in last year’s competition. After his victory, Gokul said the competition was a culmination of six years of hard work.

“I’ve dealt with defeat and success,” he said during the live broadcast. “I’m finally happy to have success.”


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Indian-American Businessman Urges Trump to Reopen with “common sense precautions”

Danny Gaekwad, Indian-American businessman has urged Trump's administration to reopen the country's economy with "common sense precautions"

Reopen the country's economy with "common sense precautions", suggests Indian-American businessman. Pixabay

A prominent Indian-American businessman has urged US President Donald Trump administration to reopen the country’s economy with “common sense precautions”, highlighting the struggles America’s hoteliers were facing during the COVID-19 lockdown, the media reported.

Speaking at a roundtable of hospitality and tourism industry, hosted by Vice President Mike Pence in Orlando on Wednesday, Danny Gaekwad, Chairman of OSEM Hospitality Management, said such a move will “help our industry and our state get our economy moving again”, the American Bazaar reported on Thursday. Gaekwad was speaking as a representative of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).

Besides Pence, the event was attended by Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and several prominent business leaders from the state. Gaekwad and other industry leaders proposed a number of steps and a phased reopening of the economy. “This pandemic hit the hotel industry particularly hard, and owners and employees alike continue to struggle,” said Gaekwad, also a prominent Republican donor, told Pence.

“Reopening our businesses with common sense precautions that prioritize the health and wellbeing of employees and guests will help our industry and our state get our economy moving again.” Gaekwad, a resident of Ocala, in central Florida, drew Pence’s attention on the liquidity crisis members of AAHOA, who own nearly one in every two hotels in the country, were facing.

Industry leaders proposed a number of steps and a phased reopening of the economy to Trump administration. Pixabay

“If there is no guest, there is no dollar. If there is no dollar, don’t even think about liquidity. Do we have liquidity? Absolutely not,” the American Bazaar quoted the businessman as saying.

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“As an immigrant, my whole family works in a business because it does bother us. I represent here more than 20,000 (AAOHA) members. We all came with an American Dream. I thought I saw 9/11, I thought I saw the greatest recession. I have never seen this and I was never prepared for this.” (IANS)

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Winners of National Spelling Bee Contest Since 2008 Hails from India

The spelling and vocabulary contest known as the National Spelling Bee in the United States was inaugurated in 1925 with help of nine American newspapers

national spelling bee
Co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, from left, Shruthika Padhy, Erin Howard, Rishik Gandhasri, Christopher Serrao, Saketh Sundar, Sohum Sukhatankar, Rohan Raja and Abhijay Kodali hold the trophy in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31, 2019. VOA

The spelling and vocabulary contest known as the National Spelling Bee in the United States was inaugurated in 1925 with help of nine American newspapers.

While the winning elementary and middle school students had family names of Neuhauser, Bell, Lucas, Robinson, Hogan, Jensen and Randall in the contest’s first years, beginning in the 1980s, children from South Asian immigrant families, particularly India, have started gaining a solid footing among champions.

national spelling bee
The eight co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee celebrate their win in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31, 2019. VOA

In fact, from 2008 until 2018, winners of every single year’s spelling bee hail from families of Indian heritage.

This year, the southern state Alabama’s 14-year-old Erin Howard was the lone non-Indian American who won the prestigious championship along with seven other kids, aged 12 and 13, all of whom came from Indian American families.

national spelling bee
Erin Howard, 14, of Huntsville, Ala., gets excited after receiving her last word to spell as she competes in the finals of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., May 30, 2019. VOA

While some have expressed concern that the contest appears to be dominated by Indian Americans, the competition’s organizers don’t seem to be troubled.

“We are proud of the diversity of our participants and are delighted with the success of Indian-American students in our program,” Paige P. Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, tells VOA.

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Shalini Shankar, professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University, herself a native of Mumbai, India, points out that “spelling bees have become a vital part of the Indian American experience.”

national spelling bee
Naysa Modi, 12, from Frisco, Texas, types her word in the air while spelling correctly during the evening finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., May 31, 2018. VOA

Shankar credits “a confluence of factors” that include “feel-good documentaries that inspired future spellers, a culture invested in competitive spelling and parental investment in a child’s educational success” to the persisting phenomenon of Indian-American students’ domination of the national spelling bee contests in the last decade.

According to the Spelling Bee’s official website, 11 million students across America, from grades one to eight (aged seven to 15), participated in spelling bee contests this year, a majority (65%) of them enrolled in public schools. The southern state of Texas so far boasts the most champions.

national spelling bee
Caroline Kovacs, 10, of Hoboken, N.J., reacts as she spells out a word in the third round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, May 29, 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md. VOA

In addition to students who already live and study in the United States, Kimble says this year’s competition also had participants from Canada, Jamaica, Germany, The Bahamas, Ghana, Japan and South Korea.

Kimble tweeted that “the school bee winner is often the one who memorized a 450-word list. The regional winner is the one who memorized a 1500-word list; has broad knowledge of roots and patterns; and composure in applying knowledge to off-list words asked at the end of the bee.”

The Merriam-Webster unabridged online dictionary, “a dictionary of American English,” as Kimble puts it, serves as the official source where contest words are found.

national spelling bee
The Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy sits in front of competitors during the second round, May 28, 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md. VOA

Following its news report of the 2019 national competition that saw eight parallel winners, each bringing home a $50,000 cash prize (which they all reportedly indicated an interest in putting aside for their college education), The New York Times gave readers an opportunity to try out the paper’s own Spelling Bee contest, a step-up from the usual Crossword feature.

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Kimble, the executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a non-profit organization under The E. W. Scripps Company, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based media conglomerate, says there is also a yearly Bee in the nation’s capital between members of the press and members of congress. Winner of the 2018 contest was a journalist writing for The Washington Post. In 1913, when the first such Bee took place, Congressman Frank B. Willis from Ohio [who went on to become the state’s governor] beat participating scribes in that “most American of showdowns.” (VOA)

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Issues Over Heritage In Illinois Election Campaign

"We vote by the type of person and what that person can do and not by anything else"

Midterm Elections, illinois
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois. VOA

In an Illinois congressional district where just six percent of the constituency is Indian American, the incumbent Democrat Congressman is being challenged by another Indian American.

“I see it as American versus American,” Jitendra Diganvker, or “JD” — the Republican challenger for the Illinois 8th district, said.

“Yeah we happen to be Indian,” he added dismissively.

“It is a good thing that members of minorities are running as Democrats or as Republicans,” the incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi said.

The Illinois 8th District is 51 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Hispanic,14 percent Asian, and four percent African-American, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Of those Asians, about half are Indian, according to the campaigns’ estimates.

Views and policy

In this diverse district, voters care about issues more than identity.

“I don’t care about them being Indian American. I just hope that whichever one wins that they support and help the people,” said Michelle Sims, an employee at the DuPage Community College. “And if you’re Indian then, hey, that’s fine. Just help the people.”

A Jamaican-American university student, Amara Creighton, says she thinks it is great that two minority candidates are running and have support, regardless of their ethnicity.

“I think what’s more important is their views and their policies,” Creighton said. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter to me what their minority is as long as they’re standing up for us and doing good for us.”

This rare instance of two candidates of the same minority running against each other is reflective of a larger trend throughout the United States – record numbers of Indian Americans are running for office and winning their elections.

In 2016, four Indian Americans — one of them being Krishnamoorthi, were elected to the U.S. House and a fifth was elected to the Senate — outnumbering in just one election the total number of Indian Americans to serve as U.S. representatives.

Incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi goes by his first name, which his constituents can more easily pronounce. VOA

Krishnamoorthi, a businessman and former deputy state treasurer, was elected to his first term in the House of Representatives in 2016. He succeeded Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who was elected that year to the U.S. Senate.

Diganvker is a small businessman, Uber driver, and ardent member of the local Republican party. As the underdog, he is running as a “day-to-day” guy, and says he decided to run because he feels his opponent is out of touch with middle-class, hardworking families in his community.

But his opponent, who is completing his first term in Congress, says he is far from out of touch with his community. He visits each weekend to see his wife and children when Congress is in session.

Though both candidates are immigrants, their views on immigration policy differ. Krishnamoorthi, the Democrat, has been critical of Trump’s policies to decrease refugee allowances and speaks out against family separations at the border.

“We shouldn’t separate parents from children,” he told VOA. “That’s an abomination.”

Though Diganvker, too, opposes family separations at the border, he favors Trump’s promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and supported the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

Republican challenger Jitendra “JD” Digavnker says he is running as a “day-to-day” guy. VOA

“I’m also an immigrant. I followed the legal process and I believe in merit-based immigration,” he said, adding that merit-based immigration “brings the right skill set of people into our country.”

Krishnamoorthi, however, said that his parents legal immigration to the United States has not hardened his immigration stance.

“The fact that my parents came here legally and someone [else] did not, doesn’t mean that we should be inhumane or disrespectful, doesn’t mean we should treat them with anything less than dignity,” he said.

Diverse constituency

Both Congressional candidates are Hindu, but have wooed members of various religions in the community.

“When you come to this country there is no race,” said Farrukh Khan, a Muslim halal-shop owner in Schaumburg. “We should not go for the race, we should go for the people who more care about you and your community. Hindu or Muslim doesn’t matter.”

Halal shop-owner Farrukh Khan says that he is unconsidered by the religion of either candidate. VOA

So as not to lose a customer, he did not indicate which man he will support in the November election.

Myrna Frankel has volunteered for Krishnamoorthi since his first campaign, an unsuccessful bid for Illinois comptroller in 2010. They know each other through the Jewish Beth Tikvah Congregation in Schaumburg where the congressman, who lives a few blocks away, sent his children for nursery school.

“He considers himself a JewDu – half Jewish, half Hindu,” she recounted with a laugh.

Myrna’s husband, Robert, said that this diversity and community relationships are typical of their community.

“Our state senator is from Mexico. Our state representative is from Puerto Rico. Our junior senator is of Thai background,” he said.

“We vote by the type of person and what that person can do and not by anything else,” he said.

Also Read: Democrats Gain Fundraising Advantage In The US Midterm Elections

When it comes to policy, voters in the Illinois 8th seem to heavily favor the incumbent. Early polling by Five Thirty Eight shows a “99% chance” that Krishnamoorthi will win. Rasmussen’s most recent poll shows a “Strong Dem” leaning in the midterm. As of June 30, Krishnamoorthi had raised more than $4 million compared to Diganvker’s $29,000.

But the challenger isn’t intimidated.

“People can give him $10 million and that’s not going to scare me,” he said, adding that despite recent polling, his campaign is “1,000 percent sure” that he will win in November. (VOa)