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After dinner earlier this evening, I happened to glance at my phone and to my delight, I saw an email from India Currents. After a hectic Saturday spent with the family, I thought that reading the article would be a perfect way to spend some time. The article, “Spelling S-U-C-C-E-S-S: How do the children do this year after year?” written by Anupama Oza and Dr. Rajesh Oza popped onto the phone screen and dove right into my heart for a reason. I read the article with a sense of intensity, as I could relate to the journey undertaken by the students and their families. I just had to write this essay in response.
I grew up next to the citrusy orange groves of a small suburban town named Corona in California. We moved there in 1986 from Cerritos, the “Indian hub” of Los Angeles. My mother, a very pious Indian homemaker raised her children in a single income family. My father migrated here in 1974 and acquired his green card on the basis of his qualification as an electrical engineer who had graduated with honors. He would wake up early every morning and drive 50 miles in notoriously bad LA traffic to Carson, so that he could work and support his family. We were a typical, middle class, immigrant based unit that housed first generation Indian-American children.
It was 1990. My father had been laid off from his job and was working in real estate in an economy that had experienced a significant downturn. Times were tough; my mother took up a job at Kindercare, a daycare center so that we could have health insurance. Love was the glue that bonded the four of us together.
I was in 5th grade, and was a studious nerd with black shiny hair combed to the side, just like my dad. I found out about the Spelling Bee competition to be held at school from my teacher, but I had to discuss everything with my mom before saying “Yes” – a habit ingrained in me based on our cultural understanding. I still remember her eyes glowing when she heard that I wanted to participate.
Once the decision was made, my parents worked with me tirelessly. The exercises in spelling mirrored our daily life of struggle and in time became a voyage for us as a family. Even though he looked exhausted, my dad would assiduously ensure that I remembered the spelling of every word in the lists that my mom and I would make after dinner. Mom and I would finish doing the dishes after dinner, and then she and my elder sister would both help me journey into the art of orthography, the science of learning a language through learning spelling. I was spelling in my dreams now, thanks to the commitment of our tightly woven Indian household. We fostered each other’s vitality.
I can still remember the sweat dripping from my clammy palms as I waited in the multi-purpose room ready to compete. To my awe, I was the last one standing. I had won my 5th grade spelling bee! With the steadfast and continued diligence from everyone in my family, I would go on to win at the school level every year, but competing at the district level was far more challenging and I lost at at the district level every time I entered. I persevered through these losses because my parents and sister motivated me and made me believe that I could do it. I finally gained confidence and belief in myself because of my family. I was determined to get past the district level competition.
The last year to participate in the bee was here, we were all in. The palpitations in my heart didn’t stop; they only got stronger as I had battled to the last round of D-Day (District Day). Four years of my family’s endless efforts, and the time and love that they invested in me during this period was on the line. My opponent misspelled a word, it was my turn, and the word was “copious”. I didn’t know the word from memory but sounded it out, and tentatively spelled, “C-O-P-I-O-U-S”. To my disbelief , I had spelt it correctly! Our hard work, disappointment and determination had now come to the precipice of success. We triumphed!
My mother came to me with a smile. She hugged and kissed me tightly, and a photo was taken of us. The story of our family’s “copious” win was published in the local newspaper. I would go on to win 4th place at the county level. My mother, father, sister and I would celebrate the journey of perseverance through hardships, love and failure. After the victory, my father became the general manager in a software firm, my mother stopped working, and my sister became a valedictorian and I would find admission into UCLA. Until this day, we are the same group of four that pledged our promise of unconditional love.
In the end, it was a win all the way for this middle class Indian immigrant family.
Sameyh (Samir Jain) is a 1st generation Indian-American who was born here in the US. He has a B.A in Sociology from UCLA and he thoroughly enjoys writing and helping people through his life experiences. You can find more of his articles at www.sameyh444.wordpress.com.