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How to answer relatives' Thanksgiving questions about Minnesota

Nothing goes better with pumpkin pie than combating benign ignorance to rampant misinformation.

Nothing goes better with pumpkin pie than combating benign ignorance to rampant misinformation. Zera Li, Unsplash.com

Whether you're traveling to visit far-flung relatives or hosting people who've crossed state lines, Thanksgiving inevitably brings the threat of well-intentioned questions from ill-informed family members.

We're here to help. Below, find our conversational how-to on tackling topics  Minnesota media, politics, and pop culture, just in time for Turkey Day.

1. "What's a triplex?" If you managed to dodge questions about this one last year, you might not be so lucky this time around. This comprehensive plan for city planning in Minneapolis has been officially approved, and the rest of the nation is kind of going bonkers about it.
What you need to know: Before this plan passed, the vast majority of Minneapolis was zoned exclusively for single-family homes. City officials and activists thought this was a problem, especially with an ongoing affordable housing crisis. To encourage denser housing, the plan effectively upzoned the entire city, so more duplexes, triplexes, and apartments could be built. (Yes, you can still build single-family homes, too.) Fans see a revolutionary way to create more housing. Detractors worry about property values, bulldozers (!), or that the market won’t be incentivized to make any of these new developments “affordable.” You can find more info here.

2. On having a hot mayor: Last month, President Donald Trump held a rally in Minneapolis. Mayor Jacob Frey stepped up to the plate and demanded to know who would be footing the bill for Trump’s venue (a few places have been stiffed in the past) and the two promptly got into a Twitter battle for the ages. This led other people on the platform to notice Frey had a… striking… appearance. (It has been called a “young Richard Gere vibe.”)
What you need to know: Yes, Frey has been described as handsome, but if you live here, you know he’s also had his indescribably dweeby moments. (Watch this clip to get into the holiday spirit.) And for all his tough tweets at Trump, Frey's still working on the part about getting actually get the $540,000 paid back. 

3. Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar omnibus: Oh no, here comes your aunt with a spoonful of mashed potatoes and a head full of Fox News fear. Let’s do a lightning round and get this one over with. 
What you need to know: Yes, the Somali refugee turned Congresswoman has apologized for invoking anti-Semitic tropes while criticizing U.S.-Israel relations. No, she wasn’t photographed conducting some sort of “Jihad training.” Yes, she's getting a divorce. No, she did not dance to Lizzo on 9/11. And for the record, she recently scored a win when her assertion that Trump advisor Stephen Miller was a “white nationalist” was reportedly backed up by emails obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

4. The Lizzoverse: Minnesota's got a new patron saint of swag. Lizzo lived in Minneapolis for five years before snatching 2019 like the teeny, tiny purse she brought to the American Music Awards.
What you need to know: Give yourself a crash course on Lizzo lines by tuning into any radio station, TV commercial, or fitness class. Be prepared to talk about one in particular. There's controversy over the lyric about being “100 percent that bitch," which she recently admitted to lifting from a 2017 tweet by U.K. singer Mina Lioness. Consider this a chance to wade into the complicated depths of ownership and plagiarism in our late-capitalist, media-saturated conceptual age -- or to try rapping the rest of the song.

5. Are you ready for some footballlllllll-related questions? For the first time in... forever, really, both the University of Minnesota (10 wins, one loss) and the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) are actually good. Someone who knows sports is a safe topic is bound to bring up the ol' gridiron.
What you need to know: It is your right as a Minnesotan to cast doubt on (male) sports teams, even winning ones. Crack a joke about waiting for some sort of kicking tragedy or injury. Preemptively curse the entire state of Wisconsin. Or if your favorite sport is celebrity gossip, switch the topic to speculation about Lizzo's "new man."

6. Twin Cities crime: The typically docile Twin Cities made news this year for crime in downtown Minneapolis, where numerous robberies and assaults were caught on video, and St. Paul, which has seen an unusually violent year.
What you need to know: Robberies did spike in downtown Minneapolis this summer, with 47 reported over a 20-day stretch of August. Far-right news outlets blamed the muggings on “Somali gangs." Police didn't: There's “no evidence” even one of the young men perpetrating the crimes was Somali. As for St. Paul, the higher rate of homicide can be blamed on drugs, old gang disputes, and other individual issues. Guns have been used in the vast majority of the city's murders, though Mayor Melvin Carter isn't ready to deploy ShotSpotter technology to track noises that sound like shots.

7. St. Paul trash war: Start your answer with: "Jesus Christ, Uncle Myron please don’t make us talk about trash."
What you need to know: Finish it with: "We voted. The city’s current trash-collection system won. Pass the potatoes."

8. Conversion therapy: We encourage severe side-eye at the use of the word "therapy" to describe this practice of attempting to make queer people straight or trans people cis-gender. Both the medical and psychological communities decry it as ineffective and harmful to the subjects’ health. 
What you need to know: After a disappointing flop in the Minnesota Legislature, Minneapolis stepped up and approved its own municipal ban on conversion therapy. St. Paul is expected to come up with its own in the near future. If your family is curious about other issues facing the queer and trans community in Minnesota, the Human Rights Campaign recently ranked eight of our cities on how inclusive/protective our laws are for LGBTQ folks. Minneapolis and St. Paul got perfect scores. Other cities, not so much. (Note: Change the subject to lighter queer news with the “It’s a gay bar, Pamela.” meme.)

9. Bonus topicWeird traditional holiday food: If anyone in your family attempts to feed you something suspect, feel free to pull up this horrifying tour of Midwestern nightmare food before accepting. 

What you need to know: Whatever you're eating, just know somewhere, some poor soul is staring down into a nastier jello mold than you could ever imagine.