Excerpt: the 2005 Nationals, Washington, D.C. – Who Are the Spellers?
…As parties go, these 273 spellers are likely the most divergent group of people gathered in the nation’s capital this week. Once again this year, the Bee is the definition of diversity.
Nektarios Vasilottos’s parents are from Greece, and the family speaks Greek around the house; Amanda Redhouse is a Navajo Indian who lives on a reservation in Arizona, and her family speaks Navajo around the house. Mehron Price values her Ethiopian heritage, and Dominic Errazo—a huge Monty Python fan who quotes from the movies at odd moments—hails from the Philippines. The names of the spellers read like a trip around the world: Rachel Hernandez, Alyssa Tomaskovic, Truc Viet Ho, Harvest Zhang.
Indeed, this event is America in all its multiethnic glory—if you’re not careful, you can almost hear a distant horn section playing, with a stentorian voice talking about the immigrant experience, its sacrifice, its hope for a better life, and its heartfelt pride in having found a home in a place called America. Jamie Ding’s parents left China after the horror of the Tiananmen Square massacre; they had to buy him an audiocassette as an infant to teach him standard English. Anurag Kashyap’s father competed with thousands of applicants in his native India for an academic post that would enable him to land a job in the United States.
On the other hand, Ben Reinig is a farmer’s son who lives in Harlan, Iowa, and his father—who drove a tractor at age ten—speaks with an earthy twang as he talks about managing the family farm; the Reinigs are as connected to domestic soil as one can be. But the Reinigs’ farm life is far different from that of Seth Martin, who lives in New York City, or Phillip Acevedo, who hails from Chicago, or Christian Medina, who lives in Los Angeles. Some big towns, yes, and some not so big towns. Katie Brown—now in her fourth year at the Bee—lives in Stuart, Florida, and Carlie Gakstatter goes to school in Iron Mountain, Michigan.