By Jose Serrano ( | First Posted: Dec 22, 2015 05:50 PM EST

Desfile Independencia de Mexico (Photo : Mauren Arvizu )

Decades of lobbying to have Afro-Mexicans recognized by the Mexican government paid off in this year's census as the Instituto Nacional de Estadístíca y Geografía added an option allowing participants to identify by their ethnicity.

The INEGI survey found 1.4 million residents - or 1.2 percent of the country's population - identified as Afro-Mexican. Nearly 65 percent of those consider themselves indigenous, 9.3 percent said they speak an indigenous language, and most said they feel discriminated against when they travel. A majority of the population resides in southern states of Guerrero and Oaxaca.

INEGI director general Miguel Cervera told Fusion he was "pleasantly surprised" to see the black population doesn't trail the rest of the country in education and health services, saying they may have better access to these services than indigenous people. Census data shows 1.4 percent illiteracy rate among Afro-Mexicans between age 15 and 29, compared with 1.2 percent the rest of the nation in the same age range.

"These groups want to count statistically, so they can solicit government or institutional support," Cervera said.

Mexico's first government-funded census occurred over a century ago. Until now, none acknowledge a black population that dates back to the country's colonial days.

Spaniards and the Portuguese are believed to have brought the first Africans during the 15h and 16th centuries. They were used as slaves, trade bait, or a mixture of both as they labored throughout Latin America.

Slaves placed in Mexico's southern region still have a presence today. The Republic of Mexico was formed in the mid-1820s following a protracted struggle for independence from Spain. When caste systems were destroyed and slaves freed, many Afro-Mexican chose to stay in the south; in regions like Costa Chica and along the Gulf of Mexico.

While this is a first step towards recognition, advocacy groups believe more can be done.

Sergio Peñaloza Pérez, head of the Mexico Negro organization, told La Jornada that the survey doesn't consider Afro-Mexicans reluctant to come forward due to "historic" discrimination.

The INEGI has shown "resistance in counting us (in the census), and in the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous People," according to Peñaloza Pérez. He added, "Just like in local and federal Congress, they ignore the topic greatly."

© 2015 Latinos Post. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.