The symbol on this panel represents the phoenix and the Vietnamese community. The phoenix is one of four animals (phoenix, dragon, unicorn, and tortoise) on the traditional Vietnamese coat of arms. In Vietnamese tradition, it is considered the paragon of virtue and was used by empresses as their principal emblem, while emperors used the dragon.
The phoenix is the mythical bird that burnt its own nest, only to rise from the ashes days later. The phoenix hides itself in times of trouble and appears only in calm and prosperous times, so it is regarded as a sign of peace and concord. It is the master of rebirth that understands the secrets of survival. The phoenix also makes itself known to those who need to make new beginnings.
Vietnamese folklore describes the phoenix as having the neck of a snake, the breast of a swallow, the back of a tortoise, and the tail of a fish. It is able to stand on the waves of the sea and fly for extraordinary distances. The phoenix’s song includes all the five notes of the pentatonic musical scale and its feathers include the five fundamental colors—black, white, red, green, and yellow.
The phoenix has become a symbol of the rebirth of Vietnamese culture out of the ashes of the Vietnam War. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, many Vietnamese Americans have come to Tacoma to begin a new life and overcome the hardships of their past.