Leo Tanguma, the son of migrant farmworkers, grew up in Beeville, Texas. In his early childhood, he made sketches of his parents while they worked in the cotton fields. Leo majored in art at Texas Southern University where he studied under Dr. John Biggers, Chairman of the Art Department and nationally recognized as one of the foremost muralists. In 1972 in Mexico City, Leo Tanguma met David Alfaro Siqueiros who significantly influenced his work. Siqueriros advised Tanguma to take his themes from American life and to avoid strictly folkloric material.
Since the early 70's, Leo has completed many murals in the tradition of the great Mexican muralists Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros in painting oppressed peoples struggles. Perhaps his most well known work is "Rebirth of Our Nationality" (1973) on the exterior wall of the Continental Can Company building in Houston, Texas. This mural portrays the awakening of the Mexican American's self awareness. Other themes depicted in his murals include Black self awareness, police brutality, man's assault on the environment, racism, youth violence, and the struggles of women, the elderly, and the working class.
Over 30 years ago, Tanguma developed the concept of structural murals since many murals on walls have been defaced or painted over. The structural mural combines the discipline of sculpture and mural art into an integrated piece of art work.
The key element found in all of Leo's work is the struggle for dignity, justice, self-determination, and human rights. Tanguma views his murals as dialogue with the oppressed. He states, "The values and subject matter for my murals have come directly from the people, and it is for the community that I paint."