Finding 'The Fourth World': The Growing Hmong Community in North Carolina


Watch the next film in The Sauce series this
Filipino American History Month

In filmmaker Nash Consing's The Fourth World, a young Hmong musician reflects on the meaning of home as he travels between college and his hometown in North Carolina. After premiering at the New Orleans Film Festival in 2021, The Fourth World is the second of five films in The Sauce series, a collaboration between the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and the New Orleans Video Access Coalition (NOVAC) to develop emerging Asian American filmmakers from the American South. 

This Filipino American History Month, we talked to Consing, a Filipino American living in Brooklyn, NY who was also raised in North Carolina, about the film, his childhood, inspiration for the film and what he hopes audiences take away from it.

The following includes excerpts from an interview by WORLD Channel's Hannah Paul and Sharon Wong.

What was it like growing up in North Carolina?

Nash Consing: It was a tough time growing up. I had no idea how to illustrate or grow my racial identity; I wasn't even aware of it. In my classes, I was [usually] the only person of color. The only other people who were non-white were a couple of Hmong classmates. I was going to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, about two and a half hours east of [my hometown of] Hickory, NC, and the Hmong community helped illustrate and hold me as I grew into my Asian American identity. I wanted to do a film on my hometown as a love letter to my experiences growing up as an Asian American in a predominantly white and rural town.

Why did you decide to leave North Carolina?

NC: I graduated in 2021 during the pandemic, and didn't know where I would end up. My parents are immigrants, and I've always been reflective about what home and placement are and how that pertains to myself and my family history. I moved to New York for work, and in making this decision, I saw myself doing my own kind of migration in my generation.

Talk to us about your experience with The Sauce fellowship.

NC: [The Sauce] was a film fellowship, but for me, it was experiencing community. It was the first time that I felt a community amidst a lot of other intersections other than just being Asian American. Being in my early 20s, it was a very formative experience. It was very empowering to laugh and to cry with people in 2021.

2021 was also the year of the Atlanta shootings. I remember when that day happened, because I was the only man in the fellowship. We all live in proximity to Atlanta, and we were supposed to meet to talk about films, but we just mourned with each other. It was a very uncertain moment in Asian America, but particularly [for] Asian America in the South. That was a very sad moment, but it was also a very beautiful moment. I don't think I could have moved beyond that or created action because of that without being in this fellowship and spending time with [the filmmakers and mentors].

How did you come to the film that you made?

NC: I’ve always wanted to do a film in Hickory, but didn't know exactly what I wanted it to be about. When I was thinking about pursuing some ideas, I talked to my friends from back home, and one of them is a Hmong American. In conversation with him, I remembered this very specific experience when I was in band:

I roomed with an Asian American kid [in honors band] – he was two years younger than me and this incredible percussionist at this very young age. During a five- or six-hour rehearsal, I remember sitting with my saxophone with swollen lips. I look across, and it is a field of mostly white people, but the only person I saw was this little Asian kid who was on percussion.

It was a moment of solidarity, like, "I see you and you see me," and we never have to communicate past that. I never thought about it again until it was time to do this film. I was wondering, "What happened to him?" I got into contact with him, and that's how the conversations began to start. He was very open to doing it. I told him about that moment where we saw each other and never spoke a word to each other, yet we had said so much.


How has being from the South shaped who you are as a filmmaker?

NC: For a good majority of my youth, being Asian American in the South was a thing that I was ashamed of, and I was doing everything to hide that identity. It was only in my college years when I was around a larger Asian American community that I started to bud into my own racial identity. Being accepted into the inaugural fellowship of The Sauce and being [surrounded by] Asian American filmmakers that are young, emerging and Southern is when I started to dive deeper into this intersection that belongs with being Asian American and Southern.

When you think of an Asian American, you don't think of them in North Carolina, Alabama or Mississippi. When you think of a Southerner, you don't think of an Asian kid. To see this [Hmong] community exist – building a a home that was taken from them and now reclaimed in the United States – means so much to me, [especially] driving on the back roads in Hickory. Being in New York makes my heart grow fonder about my hometown and about how I grew up.

Is there anything that you've learned about your family or heritage while making this film?

NC: Details about my family. In talking to Brandon and his family, they always talk about movement and what that family movement exists as. Brandon's dad moved to a hundred different cities in the U.S. before they ended up in North Carolina, and in those conversations I learned about my own family's movement. They moved to Baltimore for 10 years before they moved South. 

I also found out that my grandfather moved to Chicago for four years because he was a doctor and they were contracting Filipino doctors. That actually got me into learning about this industrial complex with the Filipino and U.S. governments. My grandfather was the first one in America [even though] he moved back to the Philippines. He worked, accumulated money and came back to continue his career and eventually retire.

It's random conversations like this; Brandon discovered things about his family that he didn't know, either. And because of that, there was a parallel conversation between [our families] that helped us illustrate our identity even further.

What did your family think of the film?

NC: I think they received it pretty well. I'm the only filmmaker in a family of medical professionals. It was a lot of, "What are you doing?," but never, "What you're doing is not what you're supposed to be doing." They were very supportive that I was doing a film.

There's this level of cohesion between my family and the Hmong community that I think is much appreciated. My dad is a family doctor and his coworker is Hmong. Over two decades, they built community, and that was the start of my reflection.

What do you hope audiences will take away from your film?

NC: It would be cool if people saw this film and then said Hickory is a mecca for Asian America. It's a mecca for the Hmong community, rather than Hickory is a place where NASCAR ran through. NASCAR is amazing, but in Asian America we talk a lot about representation and visibility, and I want that. I want that for the Hmong community. I want that for family history.

It’s the reason why my film is titled The Fourth World; the first world was their homeland in the mountains of Laos, and the second and third worlds were movement between the refugee camps in Thailand. They exist in Hickory – their seeds are planted, and they want to stay there and nourish each other. I want to highlight that this intersection exists, and that there's joy and community in these small pockets we don't usually think about.

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