Peru is one of the last countries in the Americas to include an ethnic category in its national census. The country has a mix of Amerindian, African, European and Asian descendant people, and in its upcoming 2017 census, the government of this South American nation plans on calculating where its more than 30 million citizens fall within various racial categories.

But before Blacks in Peru are counted, they need to know why it’s important to proclaim that they exist, says Monica Carrillo, founder of the activist group LUNDU (Center for Afro-Peruvian Studies and Promotion). LUNDU is sponsoring the Censo Virtual Afroperuano (www.lundu.org.pe/censo), a virtual census designed to help Afro-Peruvians understand what the census is used for and why it is important to be counted as a part of it.

“This is the only way that we have to know how many Afro-Peruvians there are, what their conditions are in terms of health and education. And we are using this virtual application because our census will be in 2017, and we want Afro-Peruvians to know how important the census is,” Carrillo said.

“This is like an exercise, and we want that people can do this exercise as a practice. It’s dedicated to Afro-Peruvians living in Peru, but also to those living abroad because we know that many Afro-Peruvians living abroad, maybe they have more consciousness about why it is important to be counted. Maybe they have family in Peru and they can talk about the census and discuss that now there is a virtual census, which can become a way that we have to improve our familiarity with this kind of tool.”

Those who use the Censo Virtual Afroperuano will create an individual profile, answer questions that are divided into 14 categories—among them health, education, employment, racism and identity—and indicate where they currently live, be it in Peru or somewhere else in the world. Statistics on the site show that a majority of those who have already taken part in the virtual census are city dwellers who identify as Afrodescendants.

Even though it has a rich, multiethnic heritage, Peru hasn’t attempted to classify its population by ethnicity since 1940. When it asked for ethnic categories back then, some 53 percent of the population said they were either of European or Amerindian ancestry. At that time, the country had a large population of descendants of enslaved Africans who had been freed in 1854, and it had a large number of Chinese migrate to the nation looking for work. Regardless, neither of these ethnic groups were acknowledged in the census.

Back in 2007, Peru conducted an official survey of its population because inaccuracies had been discovered in the 2005 census. During that survey, it was determined that there are some 150,000 Afro-Peruvian families in the country.

“This was based on a house survey,” Carrillo notes, “and it was a question about ‘In your family, one of the members—the mother or the father—do they consider themselves as Afrodescendant?’ So this is the way that we had before in the survey—that was in 2007. It was very interesting because with this information, we got some indicators about the population, like I think at least 35 percent of Afro-Peruvian women over 50 are illiterate, for example. This is information we got with this survey. But now we are at a new stage, a more important moment in our political process, because a census is something more specific. We are going to have different information; information with more quality.”

LUNDU has also created the webpage Somos Afrodescendientes, which features a campaign that utilizes famous musicians, politicians and celebrities who talk about what it means to be an Afrodescendant in Peru.

“Some people, they don’t have a clear connection with this identity,” Carrillo explained. “So in this webpage, we are talking about the hair, the food, something very connected with our traditions. And in the virtual census, for example, in one category about the self-definition of race, we are using four categories: ‘Afrodescendant,’ ‘Negro,’ ‘Zambo,’ ‘Mulato.’ Because we already know that we need to use the words that people are using to describe themselves. People can call themselves Zambo—this is the mixture between Black and indigenous; Mulato is white and indigenous. From a political perspective, we are using the word Afrodescendant, but we need to recognize that people can use different words to recognize themselves, so we need to use these words too. At least it will be very interesting because we will know about the internal identity of people in our community.”

The Censo Virtual Afroperuano will be online until 2017. “We want many people from any place in the world to access the site,” said Carrillo. “Other people—even those who are not Afro-Peruvian—p can also access it to see the general information about what’s being uploaded about Black people in Peru.”