Can you spell 'undecided?' Videos encourage South Asians to vote
New video public service announcements target South Asian voters with a spoof a spelling bee.
October 22nd, 2012
02:48 PM ET

Can you spell 'undecided?' Videos encourage South Asians to vote

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) - Two things you should know about South Asians: They are one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States and they win spelling bees.

Put the two together in an election year and what you get is a series of public service videos aimed at drawing South Asians to the polls. And they do it by poking fun at their own spelling prowess - nine of the last 13 Scripps National Spelling Bee winners have been South Asian.

The "Bee a Winner" videos feature six South Asian actors - including Parvesh Cheena of "Outsourced" and Sonal Shal of "Scrubs" - in a mock “14th Annual Desi Spelling Bee.” Each word they have to spell tackles an issue of civic engagement like "undecided" or "caucus."

"We came up with the idea of the spelling bee because it speaks to the aspect of the model South Asian," producer Sohini Sengupta said.

She said getting out the vote was the first step to political empowerment for South Asians.

Directed by indie filmmaker Tanuj Chopra, the videos were funded by 18 Million Rising, a social media campaign encouraging Asian-Americans to get more politically involved.

The spelling bee videos were posted on actress Kosha Patel's YouTube channel.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVsjpUGO-zc%5D

Asian-Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States, according to a Pew Research Center study released earlier this year. But only 55% of voting age Asian-Americans are registered to vote, according to the 18 Million Rising.  That's the lowest of all races in America.

Among them are about 3.4 million South Asians - people who claim ancestry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives. They are otherwise known as the desi community. "Desh" means homeland in South Asian languages.

But few political resources are targeted to South Asians, Sengupta said.

"There's a huge problem of getting them out to vote," she said.

One of the words in the mock spelling bee is "community."

"One in six of the South Asian community lives in a battleground state, which means they can make a real difference in this election," says the moderator.

One problem, Sengupta said, is that many South Asians are more in tune with homeland politics than they are with what's going on in America.

The spelling bee videos were meant to get young desi voters out on Election Day but Sengupta hopes they will appeal to the entire South Asian community.

There's no centralized way to mobilize South Asians, she said.

"Desis come in all shapes and sizes," she said.

"So we decided to poke fun at ourselves; to play on the stereotypes."

This South Asian reporter can attest to the humor. The videos are funny.

Posted by
Filed under: Asian in America • Ethnicity • Politics • Race • Who we are
soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. Tanisha

    Actually Native Americans are the true Americans. The rest even the whites are foreigners!

    November 30, 2012 at 4:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Actually, that could be said for most regions in one way or another. Whats the point? to make someone feel guilty? its useless banter.

      November 30, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jorge

    WOOOW, at least most of these immigrants will hopefully bring smarts back into the American brain pool like Igor Sikorsky, Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, Werner Von Braun, Guglielmo Marconi, William Shockley, Luis Walter Alvarez and many others did during the 20th century.

    Something that by the harebrained, culturally and grammatically challenged numbnuts commentary, forwarded by some of the posters here who boast about being American in an upmanlike, roundabout way, it seems that's SORELY needed...

    November 7, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    OMG, I'm so sick of hearing how brilliant they are! Anyone who has to tell me someone is brilliant is a red flag to me that something else is missing. Being brilliant is not about receiving awards. Or shouldnt be...

    November 6, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |

    I thought they had on the "Periodic table of elements" signs... Sonal 78 , Pia 45, Kosha 112, Su109, my bad.

    November 6, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
  5. Saad

    I love all the commentators that say we should identify as American only. I am of Pakistani descent and I want to be just American. I have no accent and am culturally completely mainstream American, but still get asked the question where are you from? If I say DC, people still ask "no, I mean your nationality?" (which is American as that is my only citizenship), "where are your parents from?" "no, i mean where are you REALLY from?" or my favorite "what are you?" So how about you also educate others that Americans come in all appearances and stop bugging non-White and non-Black people about their ethnicity?

    November 2, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • potassinana

      Totally agree. I am East Asian by descent, but I have no accent and was born in Texas. People always wanna know exactly how you're not white. It's gotten to the point that if someone asks me where I'm from, I'll just immediately say "My parents are Chinese." And they'd be satisfied with that answer.

      Because they don't care where YOU are from, they want to know what RACE you are. -__-

      November 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Freedom aint free

      Black & Native Americans should file suit to be the only races considdered minorities!!!!!All you other so called minorities just abuse programs ment for sons of African American Slaves,Segrigation & Native Americans.You have no contributin to this country.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  6. Struve

    Yea call me racist but ill bet you will never fight on the battlefield.

    October 29, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. SSgt Singh

    I find it insulting that there are those who stated that individuals join the military because of low IQ. I also find that it is incorrect that Asians don't want to serve because of discrimination in military. I was born in Guyana (it's in South America for those who don't know), I am of Indian descent and immigrated to the United States (legally mind you). I joined the military (US Air Force) not because of a "low IQ" as some have suggested but because I wanted to give back to the country that gave me the oppertunity to do something great with my life. Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. I consider the US to be my country because it is where my parents, friends and the majority of my memories are. I met my best friends, and my wife because of the military, my sister was born in the US. I have the freedom to choose, and express myself and do things that other countries would not allow their own citizens to do. I've been serving for 12 years now and will continue to do so and I've met lots of people who do not care what ethnicity I am or which religion I believe in or don't. They know that when the time comes, that I have their back and will not let them down and that I can do my job. There's not one person that I've encountered in my career who has discrimiated against me or turned me away from anything. I've had the support of my supervisors, commanders and the military community in my 12 years. I've been to different states, different countries and I am currently on deployment in Afghanistan supporting a medical mission for our wounded military members and civilians (including those who tried to harm us) and I do it proudly alongside white, black, brown service members. I have respect for anyone who've served honorably, currently serving honorably and those who have died for their service past and present. Remember that the next time you bad mouth a service member or insult them, you are doing that to someone's son, daugther, sister, brother, husband, wife and etc. You made your choice in life just like those of us in the military did. So please stop with the insults and belittlement and show some type of respect to those that have served, serving and those that repaid their service with their lives.

    October 29, 2012 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      Semper Fi!!!! Thanks for serving. Don't allow the ignorance of others get you upset because they have never been in your boots nor have nothing else to do in their lives except to stir up anger and hate.

      November 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Geoff

    I once read somewhere that Asians are from Asia. Is that crazy or what! Based on that information I am now studying the origin of Europeans. I've got it narrowed down to either Europe or Africa. I should have it figured out inside of a week.

    October 23, 2012 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Paulwisc

      Fail on your attempt at sarcasm. The article says "South Asian", which is a grouping of certain Asians from certain countries. I'm betting that you didn't know which nationalities were included in this group before you read this article.

      Asia is a big place - bet you can't name the origin countries included in the term Southeast Asian off the top of your head, either.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:30 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rishi

    Why do CNN always lump Indians with Bangladeshis and Pakistanis? Indian Americans are hard working and successful and contribute positively to the society as oppose to Bangladesh, Pakistan. Pakistanis only care about Islam and more concerned about other muslim countries and same thing with Bangladesh. Most Bangladeshis are illegal anyway and working as a server, waiter or taxi driver. They don't care for this country, don't give a damn about elections. Their goal is to send as much cash as possible back home and how to fraud social service. Indians have achieved so much in last 20 yrs in this country yet we have the unfortunate luck of having to share our success with other losers.

    IF this is the case, CNN please lump Israel with rest of Middle east.

    October 23, 2012 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Shiv

      I apologize for this insensitive and frankly disgraceful comment. Not all Indian Americans think this way, please stop making us look so idiotic...

      October 23, 2012 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Omar

      I am an United States Army Officer serving in Afghanistan and going outside the wire to lead my men in firefights. I am of Bengali descent and your wording is pretty dumb. I believe you have done nothing for this country. I took the initative to serve to prove my patriotism to my country and defending its ideology of free speech, freedom of religion, and the right for every American regardless of race and religion to pursue their dreams. I am a minority in the Military representing South Asians, Bengalis, and Muslims, and they view the South Asian race as unpatriotic, timid, and people seeking power to weaken our country. As a result, I again took the initiative to explain the general misconception that most South Asians are patriotic and do not take advantage of America's system like owning 3 gas statiions while paying no income taxes. So, be careful what you say.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
      • LizardKing

        You talk like the original poster...too many generalizations.

        October 23, 2012 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • tom berg

      You are just an ignorant,racist idiot.I work in silicon valley with so many brilliant Indian/South Asian engineers.By the way,Indian Americans/South Asians have the highest median household income in the U.S.Stop stereotyping people based on few you people you meet.Ugly American stereotype about us exists because of people like you who act uncivilized.You don't represent the entire American population but sadly you make them think that way.

      October 23, 2012 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Paulwisc

      Wow, someone who stereotypes complaining about stereotyping.

      I don't know about Indians, but on the basis of your post, you're not in a position to look down on anyone. You're just ignorant and bigoted.

      October 23, 2012 at 5:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Saad

      Rishi, so according do you:

      1) cab drivers, servers etc are not "serving the country."
      2) there are no Indians in the aforementioned fields.

      Luckily the second generation of desis who are Americans and grow up here don't have your hang ups. I am of Pakistani descent and have zero problems with any South Asian group, there are tons of bhangra events and other South Asian associations where everyone mingles, and have no hatred against any group Muslim or non-Muslim, Asian or non-Asian. You need to get out more.

      November 2, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Alain

      Too bad, Rishi. Unfortunately for you, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are the same. You can't change reality.

      And FYI, Pakistanis are pretty successful in this country. So what if they care about their religion? The culture is desi. When you see a picture of "Bharat Mata," there's all of South Asia in the background.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ash

    Military jobs, particularly in the army, has the lowest IQ percentile in US only outdone by semi-skilled factory workers. No wonder Indians don't go there. Indians emulate the middle-income and rich Whites on academic, financial and economic goals... Indians I know are politically of 2 kinds... the rich ones including doctors and business owners are in favor of GOP more from a lobbying and winning-favors angle, but the majority tend to be Democrat... they value a government's role in citizens lives but allow for honest entrepreneurship and where the state protects the common man from the Robber Barons. But they simply don't vote. This carries over from India where the educated classes don't vote – there are too many votes in the hands of the poor that it does not matter anyway. Between the redneck and pro-rich policies of GOP and the pro-LGBT and pro-Public Employee Unions policies of Democrats, Indians are typically lost.

    And please Desis do not include Pakis, people from Pakistan! Pakis are staunch Muslims and vote enbloc to protect their Sharia and Muslim religions. Show me a very tolerant Paki and I will show you a redneck American that invites an Asian immigrant home.

    October 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chen Baishun

      Erm, "desi" is used to refer to "Indopak" or really anybody from the subcontinent

      October 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chen Baishun

      Also nowadays Muslims aren't too keen on the Republicans. Back in 2000 Bush recruited Muslims to vote for him because of conservative values. But it's 2012

      October 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
      • Reggie from LA

        That's some scary stuff you just said there, Chen. I want to bwahahahaha, but that's just too sobering. I ain't too keen on them either, but your comment is provocative.

        October 22, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott from NH

      Not sure what you are talking about, I work with a south Asian who is Muslim, and we are very good friends and he doesn't care that I'm Jewish. In Jakarta a few weeks ago, 18 million Muslims elected a Christian Lt. Governor who swore into office on a bible. Qatar not only approved of an enormous 2.700 seat Catholic Church (St. Mary's) in their Muslim country but they donated the land for it and helped pay for it. Although, I agree with you that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are much less tolerant of non-Muslims than other Muslim nations.

      October 22, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Omar

      That is a negative Ash. I have a degree in engineering and went to a top 5 engineering school. I have met and served with people in the military with more common sense and accoutablity skills than people from my college. A lot of them are there for multiple reasons like lack of opportunities, patriotism, or to support their families. Indians are very arrogant people and the people in the military have recognized their lack of patriotism, weak, and the ability to talk big without reinforcing it without action.

      October 23, 2012 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Oshkosh

      Trash like doesn't deserve to live this country. They may have less iq than coward like you but they are the one protect us not a parasite like you. America will be better off with out people like you who doesn't know how to respect the very people who make ultimate sacrifice for their country. By the way my son was the top student in his class and choose to join the navy.

      October 23, 2012 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. beez

    military paid for mine too. i had a 5 year break in service

    October 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Electricman

    Sir, Thank you for serving USA in such a way by Joining the Armed Services- An Amritcan of South East Asian Decent.

    October 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Shangey G.

    I think the "close election" results are purposefully engineered to give people the illusion there is a chance in making a change with their vote. If the pre-election polls were more like 30%-70%, or 80-20, etc, which they should be in real life, there'd be real no reason to vote.

    With only 2 parties to choose from - one who has done really nothing in the past 4 years, and the other, from a party that decimated the economy in the first place for 8 years from 2000-2008. I can still recall George W. Bush, the republican, as he proclaimed the economy was "having a hangover" and chuckled as people were losing their jobs and homes.

    Side issues like gay marriage, abortion, etc will not change the economy. If you lost your job, home or farm, incurred more debt, etc, voting based on very superficial side issues won't change much when the ruling 2 party system loves expensive dangerous wars and destroying your individual rights and freedoms. Republicans and Democrats have not created any jobs or done anything to change it. The myth Obama and Romney are "polar opposites" and "fight and debate" each other is all fake. The differences very superficial. Realize this is all ceremonial show - like a reality TV series with producers choosing the winners even before the cameras start to roll.

    I don't believe in the system - it's rigged. Therefore, I am proud to say I'm not voting.

    October 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reggie from LA

      Yeah, Shaggy, you be real proud of that. Back in the old days we'd call that copping out. By the way, it wasn't a do nothing 4 years. It was an "Obama vs the rest of them" 4 years in which he slapped the living daylights out of them because he wouldn't play ball. Not always victorious, but always for an ungrateful nation. I can only assume that you are perhaps under informed or consider yourself a maverick of some sort. Wrong answer.

      October 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheOtherGuys

      I agree with everything you said, 100%. However there are 5 other candidates running from president. I myself will be voting for Gary Johnson. My vote will not count to decide the election but at least I will have a clear conscience.

      October 23, 2012 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
      • TheOtherGuys

        Running for*

        October 23, 2012 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jyothi, St.Louis,MO

    The low percentage(55%) of the Asian-Americans who are registered to vote is due to the fact that many of them are not US citizens. A possible low-turnover at polling centers on the Election Day could be because it happens to be a work day for most of them and not having early voting privilege in their states.

    October 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. zeb

    This article, while well-intentioned, highlights the problem with Americans. We divide ourselves by useless labels like "Asian American", "Italian American", etc. I understand that it was conjured up to give us all a connection to our country of origin, but I fear it's increasingly being used to divide rather than to bring us together.

    Let's get rid of these labels.

    October 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • BC

      But without labels, how will colleges admit based on a quota system? Labels are needed so people can claim discrimination and extend their hand.

      October 22, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Supper Meal

    This issue actually came last Thursday in Edmonton on why Indians love the Spelling Bee.


    October 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  17. OnlyOne

    And those with nothing better to do than gripe here about "those people" would be well served to remember that at least two governors of deep south state, no less (Louisiana and South Carolina) are South Asian. While immigrants do tend to be more confused or uninformed of their "duties" as citizens, following generations tend to be well attuned to (and fully integrated with) the politics of their country.

    October 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Marie

    They also don't like the joining the armed forces. M-I-L-I-T-A-R-Y spells sacrificing for one's county, just like Mitt & his 5 sons.

    October 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danesh

      Who is "they?" There are plenty of South Asian-American people in the US Military (including my brother who served a tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq). There is no monolithic "they"." Get with the program.

      October 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
      • Marie

        Generalizations are used in E-V-E-R-Y academic discipline – and as a proportion of their group, the people we call 'Asian Americans', including Southern Asians, do join the military less & do vote less than other race-ethnic groups in the States. Your brother my dear may just be a statistical outlier. We thank him for his service nevertheless. I also served with ONE Asian-American.

        October 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
      • SwamiG

        "the people we call 'Asian Americans', including Southern Asians, do join the military less" – citation please.

        October 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
      • OnlyOne

        Marie: After you've explained who "they" are, please detail who "we" are as well. After you've provided actual references for your claims, that is.

        October 22, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I know that there are many Indian origin servicemen because the Pentagon Chapel conducts Hindu services every week. Many Indian Americans have been joining the armed forces after 9/11.

      October 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • OnlyOne

      I see. So your anecdotal evidence of having "served with ONE Asian-American" is all the proof you need to claim statistical evidence. Obviously, your service wasn't in any mathematical or statistical capacity.

      October 22, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ubersoldat

      Good luck with that argument. I didn't serve in the military, because I was too smart to join. Instead, I went to college, got an MBA, and now run a very successful business which many of you are familiar with.

      But yeah, I'm a bad American because I didn't join the military to fight in fruitless wars. Forget about the fact that I pay millions in taxes, give countless dollars to charity, and am a pillar of my community. I never "killed me" an "a-rab", so I'm not a patriot.

      People like you make me sick.

      October 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
      • Jeffrey

        That's the nice thing about the internet, anyone can make any claim they please. What's that saying from years back: "On the internet, no one can tell you're a dog?" I got the military to pay for my college, both undergraduate and master's degrees. So who is smarter?

        October 22, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • OnlyOne

      Ubersoldat: Well said. Although there are indeed those that join with the express goal of serving their country, college tuition and other military benefits used to lure new recruits make these idle claims to patriotism highly questionable. And given the political slant of Marie's comments, highly doubtful as well.

      October 22, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • abqTim

      Asian racism in the military hardly make it attractive for Asians. Plus, thier high regard for education as a way to better ones self and surrondings has a lot to do with it. Just check the higher education rates. Also, many are commissioned officers and are not used in combat roles.

      October 22, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • max3333444555

      again with the mitt and the dodging the military draft. he didnt avoid the draft by going to france. he likely had a draft number that was in a "safe" range. read some history

      October 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      Could it be that the more intelligent the group of people, the less apt they are to join the Armed Forces?

      October 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • relmfoxdale

      Even if true, so? I've not served in the military. And you know, I don't think I'm a terrible person for it. (I'm not saying I'm not a terrible person–just that I don't think that's the cause.)

      October 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
      • Mat

        Nay, nay. Tis coherent, and quite a good rant! Now, my catiuon though, it (you!) should NOT be content with a good rant, nor even quite good a rant .YOU as a reader and writer and righter of other readers must create quite a noisy, non-quiet rant in the local press that you DO get attention by writing about the subject, by writing about it again, and by talking informatively about the subject to others who HAVE only read the media's propaganda. (Your bitter whine glass unless it is read by others who don't now know, will not matter if it were originally filled with white, red, or blush before it became vinegar.)

        November 15, 2012 at 3:36 am | Report abuse |
    • xavier79

      Well that does make sense that there are not many south asians in the military since thy make up a small percentage of the U.S. populating. What you said is not surprising at all.

      October 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bornfree71

      Marie – always bothers me to see that people use military service as the ONLY yardstick to measure one's devotion to their country – in itself that is sad – very sad. However, if you have decided to go down that path, lets dig deeper. South Asians – Indians in particular are in the armed forces more that you would think. If you take a percentage of citizens and green card holders in the country, they do statistically align. Yes there are a whole lot of ineligible south asians in the country as well – those on H1 and business visas – but oh well...

      Now what is more interesting (or rather funny) is that Indians don't actually need a country to fight – north Indians in particular are just born warriors. If you get a chance to read some history about them, especially about the WWII, you will see that a large number of "they" volunteered to fight for the British against the Nazis. In fact during World War II the Indian Army became the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in size. These forces included tank, artillery and airborne forces. Indian soldiers earned 30 Victoria Crosses during the Second World War. So I really don't think they are spending all their time in spelling bees. 🙂

      November 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Struve

    Yea they are the high income because their parents were brought in on H1b and L1 visas on the cheap. They worked hard, established themselves and now get paid for it. Many Americans have lost such opportunities to such as these. Not to worry; now that these new Americans are here, the next generation will lose opportunities to the next wave of cheap labor our current Americans have.

    October 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Devon

      Unfortunately, those who are born here take everything for granted and don't work as hard as immigrants for whom it's sink or swim. It's immigrants who keep this country what it is. Without them, America would quickly become a third-world country.

      October 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • VladT

      To the original poster, thanks for believing foreigners are evil. To the first responder, thanks for believing that all Americans take everything for granted and don't work as hard.

      May your dual-sided bigotry provide for lively debate that accomplishes nothing

      October 23, 2012 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Struve

      Madhu, you only read about it, My family lived and lives it.

      October 29, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |