Fireworks lit up the sky Saturday night at West Valley City's Cultural Celebration Center in a celebration of a unique gift from abroad — a colossal stone head, which is a modern replica of the original carved around 3,000 years ago.
The eight-ton statue, carved from basalt — the same volcanic rock as the Olmec original — is a gift from the state of Veracruz, Mexico. It's one of a kind, so to speak; only one replica was made of each of 17 Olmec heads discovered so far, and only three are located in the United States.
West Valley Mayor Dennis Nordfelt said the Olmec head is just the beginning of a cultural and economic relationship with Veracruz, and he hopes to attract more cultural relics. At least three other groups are planning to place their own monuments at the center, which opened last July, he said.
A colorful dragon mask from another sister city, Nantou City, Taiwan, also is on display at the center.
"We welcome the diversity in our community, and we feel strengthened by it," Nordfelt said. "I think that we have caught the vision in West Valley City of what diversity can do . . . It is a positive thing to be welcomed."
Nordfelt said about 40 percent of the city's estimated 115,000 people are ethnic minorities, and about half of the minority population is Hispanic.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity for us to acknowledge the Mexican heritage of people living in our community, and the contributions they make," Nordfelt said. "This Olmec head is a symbol of how we in the community value them, and the beginning of what I anticipate will be a very productive relationship."
Scholars believe the Olmec civilization, which started around 1,500 B.C., set many of the fundamental patterns displayed by later cultures of Mexico and Central America. The gigantic heads are thought to represent Olmec rulers.
Ross Olsen, the center's director, said its mission is to promote and preserve the heritage of the city's diverse people.
"It's new and it's one of a kind," Olsen said of the center, which overlooks the Jordan River. "Our mission is fairly well defined, our vision is very well defined."
Looking out over the Olmec head and the center's lawns recently, Olsen said there are plans in the works for a Vietnamese memorial, a Chinese gate, and a monument to Mormon pioneers.
Tom Huynh, president of Vietnamese Community of Utah, said he envisions a statue depicting a Vietnamese and American soldier standing side by side.
"We remember the American soldier, we show our appreciation to the American soldier and the American government for supporting us," he said. "Many people helped fight, laid down their lives for us to come here to America."
Huynh said his organization is working to raise as much as $100,000 to build the monument, which will be located at the center. He said the center is a perfect location for people to come together and learn about other cultures.
"The Cultural Celebration Center makes it easier for us, to be whole as a group of people."
Terence Chen of the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah wants to put a heritage gate at the site, which is in his culture is common at the entrance to cities, "to welcome all people with friendship."
Eventually, visitors will be able to see Mt. Olympus through the gate, Olsen said. So far, about $45,000 of the estimated $150,000 to $200,000 cost has been raised.
Olsen also is working on a project to build a memorial to the Harker family, who in 1848 became the first Mormon pioneers to settle on the west side of the Jordan River.