By: Claudie Benjamin, Guest Writer
Josh Hammond, the son of Evangelical missionaries from Pennsylvania, was born in Bolivia where he lived with his parents and two brothers in Concepción, a small Bolivian village on the edge of the Amazon. Now, more than 70 years later, Hammond recently moved with his wife from New York City’s Upper West Side via Philadelphia to Charleston. He has just completed, a 70,000-word memoir that reflects on years of coming to terms with his “father’s deeply troubling” religious views and behaviors toward both him and the previously uncontacted Bolivian native tribe.
“My father’s goal was to ‘contact, clothe and convert’ the Ayoré, one of numerous nearby native Indian tribes,” Hammond said.
Even as a young child, Hammond recalls knowing there was something deeply troubling about the way his father thought and acted. For example, he writes that he used him, a small, blonde six-year-old child, as “bait” to provoke the Ayoré community to be curious about the newcomers and connect with them.
On an equally sinister level, Hammond’s recollections include memories of Nazi Klaus Barbie, the notorious “Butcher of Lyon,” who most likely was one two German’s who occupied the family’s house for a few days “seeking my father’s coveted hand-made maps of the surrounding jungles.”
Another childhood memory relates to Hugo Bánzer Suárez, a Boo Radlyy-type kid living three doors down the street, who “grew up to be a Dictator of Bolivia (1971-1978) with Barbie in tow.” The way his father behaved and interacted with a spy shot on his doorstep during the 1950 Bolivian revolution, “raised suspicion in my mind about what my father was doing in the middle of all this.”
Importantly, Hammond’s memoir also details how his parents sent him to the U.S. at the age of 12 to live in foster homes and complete school. He painfully recalls that his parents chose mission over family. Reflecting about growing up, Hammond describes how he confronted his parents’ racism and developed his personal value system. As he grew older, he vowed to himself to do something about that wrong and other destructive behaviors in the community.
As an adult, living in Washington D.C. and New York, Hammond committed his skills and efforts to formulating and promoting innovative business practices and public policy initiatives on a national level directed at limiting drug use. In working toward these goals, he was part of high level teams. He created, for example, the basis for the “Just Say No Say No” campaign that Nancy Reagan popularized. Hammond provides the back story and a strong and useful critic of that program, and cautions the government and others to replicate it. As he puts it, “It was not designed to be used the way Nancy Reagan promoted it.”
In the business arena, his book, “The Stuff Americans are Made Of” (McMillan, 1996), also delineated his anthropology-based ideas and ideals.
“I used my father’s fire ‘n brimstone preaching style to motivate American business to rise to the challenge of global competitiveness in the 80s when they were down and almost out,” Hammond said.
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