Marco Rubio has listed himself as "white" instead of "Hispanic" in applications to renew his Florida driver's license, according to records obtained by the Miami Herald.
That might sound a little like Rubio made a mistake akin to when Jeb Bush incorrectly checked off "Hispanic" in his Miami-Dade County voter registration. But it's not.
Here's why: Rubio is white. He's also Hispanic. And being forced to pick between the two is a false choice.
"White" refers to Rubio's race. "Hispanic" refers to his ethnicity. There are, for example, white Hispanics, black Hispanics, Asian Hispanics and Hispanics of indigenous descent. Rubio is a white Hispanic.
Most government forms, however, are not enlightened enough to discern between a person's race and their ethnicity. When the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Department asks license applicants to fill out an optional race field, the choices are Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Other and White -- as if a person couldn't be more than one of those things at the same time.
The information isn't mandatory -- it doesn't appear on a driver's license card -- and some of Rubio's transactions with the HSMV over the years don't list any race. His 1998 and 2004 renewal applications list "white," as shown in the partial 1998 application above (the Miami Herald redacted Rubio's license number as a courtesy; other information was redacted by the HSMV). His latest renewal, from 2014, shows a blank space under "race."
Of course, there's no confusion as to Rubio's lineage. His name gives away his Hispanic roots, and he has made it part of his political narrative to tell the story of how his parents left Cuba seeking a better life for their children.
A Rubio spokesman said the Florida senator "doesn't recall" how he renewed his license.
"But this looks like a glitch since he considers himself an American of Hispanic descent," Alex Conant said in an email. "The fact that he is of Hispanic descent has been hard to miss since his first campaign given the fact that he's made his family's story a centerpiece of his public life."
The race-versus-ethnicity question is far from unusual in Rubio's diverse hometown of Miami. Some Hispanics have a personal policy of listing their race rather than their ethnicity, since that's really what is being asked. Others choose without giving it much thought, depending on the form and their mood on any given day. Since the options show a lack of understanding about what makes a person Hispanic, why bother taking it too seriously?
The U.S. Census has separated race and ethnicity, specifically over the question of Hispanic origin, since 1997. Perhaps it's time for all government agencies to do the same.