Network Helps Fight Their Isolation

MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES

MULTIRACIAL families, while becoming more common, are still enough of a rarity to create their own needs and problems. Enter Jane Chiong, who knows first-hand about the potential for isolation, identity crises, and a sense of in-betweenness such families can feel. She is devoting her life to helping them overcome these difficulties.

Mrs. Chiong's newly formed Multiracial Family Network (MFN) is the latest step in this direction. By bringing people together for a variety of artistic and social events, she hopes to build more cross-cultural awareness within the interracial community and throughout society at large.

``We can't talk all the time; we have to find ways to connect racially in a joyous way,'' says the energetic mother of four, who grew up in an Irish family in the Bronx and is married to a college professor of Chinese-Filipino extraction.

As is frequently the case in interracial families, the Chiong children differ in appearance: Moira, 13, resembles her mother; Gillian, 9, looks Asian; Timothy, 18 months, is a mix; and the new baby, Kathleen, is still unpredictable. Such differences are highlighted when children have to fill out forms categorizing themselves as belonging to one or another race.

``It isn't right to make them choose one race or another,'' Chiong says. ``How can they deny these children the right to check off their complete heritage? There should be multiracial categories - not just `other.' What is `other?'''

Chiong was galvanized into action on the multicultural front when she and Winston, her husband, traveled to China in 1979, and brought two nieces back to the United States.

The questions asked by the girls, Hi-Ying and Su-Wa, reinforced in Chiong's mind the danger of cultural ignorance among all people. This led to her found Culture Sharing Inc., an organization that put on programs, enabling people to interact with their diverse neighbors. As an offshoot of this parent organization comes the MFN, devoted specifically to helping multiracial families meet and get to know one another.

The organization recently staged its first function - a picnic attended by about 20 families. The MFN is a microcosm for the rest of the country, which has seen a number of such groups spring up in recent years.

``One of the biggest problems for interracial families is isolation,'' Chiong pointed out. ``Especially for people in the suburbs. Most of the phone calls of desperation I get come from the suburbs.''

John and Esther Splaine are an example of a mixed couple facing fewer built-in obstacles - mainly because they live in Cambridge, Mass., an ethnic melting pot where interracial families are far less a rarity.

``Living in a multiracial neighborhood makes you more sensitive to people,'' says Mrs. Splaine, who spent her formative years among a mixture of fellow southern blacks, West Indian blacks, Italians, Greeks, and Poles.

``Growing up the way I did, you end up fighting with five different types of people, and pretty soon you realize that they're all really the same,'' she said.

Splaine wants her children, whose father is white, to experience the same sort of cultural awareness - and to help others do the same.

``They're gap-bridgers, and they can bring a lot of kids [of both races] across who never would have crossed that bridge on their own,'' she said.

Chiong sees more sensitivity now than when she started her parent organization 10 years ago, but also room for improvement.

``Back then, there was basically no multicultural awareness anywhere,'' she recalled. ``It was as if I was speaking a foreign language....''

Today, ``everybody is trying to do the right thing, but there's too much tiptoeing around,'' she said. ``This issue is deeper than following the right rules - though we need the rules. You have to have reality, arguments, fights - not everybody walking around on egghells.''

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