At first glance, JJ Eftink appears to be the average American twenty-something. He works a steady 9 to 5 job. He has several dogs and a longterm girlfriend. Nobody would ever guess that he spent seven years in a Bangkok orphanage.
The story begins with a mother that became pregnant at sixteen, a father nowhere to be found, and a boy sent to an to live in a cramped orphanage with no running water.
“It was kind of like survival of the fittest,” Eftink said.
Eftink was one of the lucky ones that survived. And even luckier to be adopted into the United States at age seven. Although, it wasn’t all luck. Eftink’s mother stipulated that JJ had to be adopted to an American family. She wanted him to live the American dream. The Eftink family wanted to adopt a son, and JJ was the perfect match, according to his brother Jared.
“He came in and was immediately part of our family,” Jared said.
Though a small child, Jared said JJ had a big appetite when he first left the orphanage.
“I’d never seen a little boy eat that much stuff,” Jared said.
At first, it wasn’t the easiest transition. Eftink said he struggled with the adjustment at times in elementary school.
“There was a barrier growing up in grade school, because you know how kids are when they are young. They like to make fun of people. It was just us being kids. Everybody went through that stage,” JJ said.
Thank goodness for JJ, he soon saw himself as American.
“I’m accustomed to the (American) culture that (my family) raised me in,” Eftink said.
Because he never went back to Thailand after his arrival in America, Eftink doesn’t believe that he has much of a Thai identity to balance his American identity. He doesn’t celebrate Thai holidays, and doesn’t really know much of the language anymore. He speaks with a southern drawl. In fact, many people don’t realize that JJ is adopted at all.
“My father who adopted me, he actually kinda looks like me. If you ask a lot of my friends, or people here, they say that they would think that’s my real dad,” JJ said.
Eftink’s adopted father worked on a farm growing up, and shares a similar tan skin complexion to JJ.
Another thing that helped JJ adapt to American culture is the sport of basketball. Despite standing at 5’9” and weighing 140 pounds in high school, Eftink played for the Oxford Chargers basketball team, and was named all-district his senior year. If there is one thing Eftink can do, it is shoot. Whether it be a shot on the court, or one shot to live the American dream, Eftink is going to sink it.
JJ’s playing career ended after graduating high school in 2009, but his time around the game didn’t end. He worked a student manager, and later a graduate assistant for the Ole Miss Men’s Basketball team, helping them to an SEC Tournament Championship in 2013, and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2015. Now, he works for Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss Athletics foundation. Oxford is JJ’s home.
However, JJ may be appreciated most off the court. Caroline Hon, his girlfriend of seven years, has nothing but positive things to say about JJ.
“JJ is a very wonderful person. He’s very caring; loyal. He’s very devoted to his friends and his family. He loves his animals,” Hon said.
His love for animals started back in the orphanage, where there were many stray dogs to play with. That love never went away. Now in his twentieth year in Oxford, JJ spends his free time playing with his two dogs and cat.
None of this would be possible without the sacrifice of his mother, who chose adoption over teen parenthood. Eftink has never met his mother, but he understands why she gave him up.
“My mom knew she could not take care of me, which is something I will respect for somebody that was sixteen years old, and realize that they couldn’t take care of me. So, she wanted me to live a good life. She knew that she couldn’t provide a good life,” Eftink said.
Eftink has one photo of his biological mother. A photo that he has never seen.
“If I ever see that picture, I think I would just lose my mind. I wouldn’t know what to do. I keep on saying I eventually will take a look at the picture when I get older, but I’m sitting here at 27-years-old, and still haven’t looked at the picture,” JJ said.
Despite never looking at her photo, her sacrifice isn’t forgotten by JJ.
“(Being given up for adoption) is the best thing that could’ve happened to me, honestly,” JJ said.
So JJ Eftink moves on with his life. A life that only exists because of a mother’s sacrifice, and an opportunity in the United States.
“I’m living the American dream for sure,” JJ said.
That American dream is one Eftink will never wake up from.