RATIONALE: Severe early-life respiratory illnesses, particularly those caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and human rhinovirus (HRV), are strongly associated with the development of asthma in children. Puerto Rican children in particular have a strikingly high asthma burden. However, prior studies of the potential associations between early-life respiratory illnesses and asthma in Puerto Rican and other minority populations have been limited. OBJECTIVES: We sought to determine whether early-life respiratory illness was associated with asthma in Puerto Rican, Mexican American, and African American children. METHODS: Using a logistic regression analysis, we examined the association between early-life respiratory illnesses (report of upper respiratory infection (URI), pneumonia, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis/RSV) within the first two years of life and physician-diagnosed asthma after the age of two in a large cohort of Puerto Rican, Mexican American, and African American children. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: While early-life respiratory illnesses were associated with greater asthma odds in Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans, these associations were stronger among Puerto Rican children. Specifically, in Puerto Ricans, the odds was 6.15 (95% CI: 4.21-9.05) if the child reported at least one of the following respiratory illness: URI, pneumonia, bronchitis or bronchiolitis. The odds were also higher in Puerto Ricans when considering these conditions separately. CONCLUSIONS: We observed population-specific associations between early-life respiratory illnesses and asthma, which were especially significant and stronger in Puerto Ricans. Taken together with the known high burden of RSV in Puerto Rico, our results may help explain the high burden of asthma in Puerto Ricans.