Why did the Zapatista rebellion occur in Chiapas and not in some other state in southern Mexico where impoverished, marginalised indigenous peasants also suffer a legacy of exploitation and repression? Stephen Lewis believes the answers can be found in the 1920s and 1930s. During those critical years, Mexico's most important state- and nation-building agent, the Ministry of Public Education (SEP), struggled to introduce the reforms and institutions of the Mexican revolution in Chiapas. In 1934 the administration of president Lazaro Cardenas endorsed 'socialist' education, turning federal teachers into federal labour inspectors and promoters of agrarian reform. Teachers also attempted to 'incorporate' indigenous populations and forge a more sober, 'defanaticised' nationalist citizenry. SEP activism won over most mestizo communities after 1935, but enraged local ranchers, planters, and politicians unwilling to abide by the federal blueprint. In the Maya highlands, federal education was a more categorical failure and Cardenista Indian policy had unintended, even sinister consequences.By 1940 Cardenismo and SEP populism were in full retreat, even as mestizo communities came to embrace the culture of schooling and identify with the Mexican nation. Fifty years later, the delayed, incomplete, and corrupted nature of state- and nation-building in Chiapas prevented resolution of the state's most pressing problems. As Lewis concludes, the Zapatistas appropriated the federal government's discarded revolutionary nationalist discourse in 1994 and launched a rebellion that challenged the Mexican state to contemplate a plural, multi-ethnic nation.