She says being involved at the Tamil pavilion has provided her with a connection to her own family roots and to the Sri Lankan community in Winnipeg.
Folklorama "is community," said the 18-year-old Tamil pavilion ambassador, who was recently named as an ambassador general for next year's festival.
"I didn't really get to grow up in Sri Lanka because we left there when I was eight months old, and I didn't really get a chance to experience it. With Folklorama here, I can still experience my culture and be who I am."
Each of the 47 pavilions at this year's Folklorama has four ambassadors: a male and a female youth ambassador and a male and female adult ambassador. All are eligible to enter the competition for ambassador general. The Folk Arts Council then narrows the field through interviews with a selection committee and a public speaking competition at the finals.
The winners have to display an in-depth knowledge of their own culture, its significance in the community and the core message of Folklorama. This year, 28 ambassadors competed in the voluntary contest.
Kirupakaran, a Richmond West resident, has been a dancer and emcee at the Tamil pavilion since its inception. She was a member of the debating club at St. Maurice School for the last four years, and feels that experience helped her win the prestigious title of female adult ambassador general for next year.
Juan Monterrosa, 17, a Glenlawn Collegiate student from River Park South in St. Vital, was named male youth ambassador general for next year's festival. Monterrosa is a youth ambassador at the El Salvador pavilion this year. The position allows him to visit other pavilions and talk about his culture, while learning about others.
"It's great fun," he said. "Folklorama, the festival, just means so much to me because I came here when I was five.
"It connects me to where I came from and to my friends and community. It is a great place to be for someone who loves their own culture and likes talking to people from other cultures."
Judy Murphy, executive director of the Folk Arts Council of Winnipeg, the organization that operates the annual multicultural festival, said the ambassadors general are truly the best representatives for their culture and for the festival as a whole.
"They really have to be, and are, sincere in wanting to understand their own culture and the cultures of others, because as ambassadors general, they really do represent the whole idea of retaining and understanding culture."
They help emcee events and attend press conferences and other functions throughout the year.
Kirupakaran is looking forward to her new role and the opportunity to spread the word on the relatively small Sri Lankan community in Winnipeg. The Tamil pavilion runs during the second week of Folklorama, from Aug. 10-16 at Burton Cummings Community Club, 960 Arlington St.
The El Salvador pavilion is also open during the second week, in the Holy Cross gymnasium at 290 Dubuc St.
PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS