My mother passed away in March of 2010. Moments before her last breath, she shared a song with my father. Their fingers were gently intertwined, as her delicate body lay lifeless on the hospice bed. In a cold, sad room, he serenaded her while she hummed along, note for note. Their voices echoed down the hallway, until they parted ways for the last time. She was 61.
Soon thereafter, I received a bright blue box with filigree edges. Inside was a stack of photographs that preserved a story of generations, memories, and a series of complex human emotions—ones I didn't know what to do with at the moment. I kept the lid closed.
In the years that followed, while riding the roller coaster of my career, I often wondered what it would be like if my mother could see me now. I wished she could know how much passion and strength she had instilled in me. I wanted her to know me now as much as I wanted to know her then.
When I retuned to California in June of 2015 to become creative director of Pacific Standard, I also returned to the little blue box with filigree edges. I opened it.
As I sifted through the pile of photos, years of memories cascaded down. I was transported to distant times and places that I might have otherwise forgotten about or never even known. I was able to appreciate every little moment my mother and I had spent together, in intimate detail. I'd already built much of my career around working with images, but it was this moment that cemented my belief in the power of photography to tell stories in ways that transcend words.
I unearthed a portrait of my mother's tiny self, wedged between two little faces. Her smile was big, but modest—as was typical—and her eyes twinkled with the resilience of the human spirit. Her two young sons (my brothers), both innocent and unknowing of the long journey that lay ahead. Moments after this photo was taken, they fled their war-torn country on what would be a long and harrowing boat ride to safer shores.
The more I dug, the more I started to piece together her untold story—of a mother, a wife, and an everyday hero with an American Dream. And, for a brief moment in time, she was with me. I understood.
The goal of Pacific Standard has always been to provide our readers with ways of understanding the world, and to tell stories that matter. Words have an incredible power to move us, but I believe photography provides a unique opportunity to stop time, to build empathy, open minds, and potentially change the world. When we expose ourselves to a view of the world framed by another, our interaction with that world changes, and that, in turn, can change us.
My hope is that this first-ever photo issue of Pacific Standard leaves you with lasting impressions of humanity's past, present, and future, and a new sense of your place in it. The box with the filigree edges is in your hands. Open it.
A version of this story originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Pacific Standard, which was produced in partnership with Magnum Photos. Follow them on Instagram here. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.